Beth's journey in the new Netflix miniseries Queen's Gambit is empowering, strong, imaginative, and full of detail.
The Woman Post | Mónica Liliana Pradilla
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Just over a month after its premiere, Queen's Gambit has become the most successful miniseries in Netflix history. Seen by 62 million since its release date on October 23, it has achieved worldwide success in all markets. It was ranked in the top 10 in 92 countries around the world and ranked first in 63, including the UK, Argentina, South Africa, and Israel.
The 7-episode series, based on the 1983 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis, tells the story of Beth Harmon, an orphan chess prodigy who manages to achieve world fame with her unique intuitive, almost invincible way of playing. The series takes place in the context of a post-cold war America, with all the characteristic colors of the scenes and costumes of the 60s and 70s, and of course its social and political contexts. This is really a complete production in all its context and it hits the spot with each of the songs it touches, despite being relatively short.
At first glance, the story of a chess prodigy might not have much appeal. But the key is in the details, and the secret of the success of the series is not alien to the nuances of Beth as a character, her evolution, her struggles, her subtle and at the same time obsessive style (responsibility of the costume designer). To the narrative of how despite becoming a great star in her field she never ceases to truly be the same lonely, silent girl, with constant internal struggles, calculating her surroundings. Beth is an underdog who becomes a fascination. Her story is perfect to see in the times we live in today, full of escapism, and perfectly planned paintings in all settings by Uli Hanisch, but it is not without background and conflict. Throughout the series we see her dealing with loss, abandonment, addictions, loneliness, discrimination, and in a fascinating way, she is never portrayed as a victim.
Chess as a game and in its most professional spheres has always been steeped in mystery and sophistication. It can be found practically anywhere in the world, and is almost universally present in public parks, traditionally performed by older people. Fictionally, it always corresponds to or is used as a simile of great strategies, it appears among the objects of the most intelligent characters, the most sophisticated, and even the great villains.
In its own conception, chess is a game that can be considered conceptually misogynistic, putting the whole fate of the game in the capture of the king, a piece that can move in all directions, but with a very limited number of squares to go; and that depends on the rest of the board to survive. Especially the queen. The world of competitive chess in the 60s, which Beth enters, is so obviously discriminatory towards women that at first glance, her interest in the game is assumed to be recreational and there is not even a category in which she can play.
Today, almost 60 years later, in a very different social context, those gender stereotypes in the practice of professional chess continue to be deeply discriminatory. In addition, it is not surprising that professional players come to refer to a supposed mental superiority of men in the game. In fact, two great masters, including the British Nigel Short, have spoken out in favor of positions that paint women in a space of insufficient intellectuality and cunning to represent a challenge for the men of the circuit.
Queen's Gambit makes the game attractive to the entire audience, regardless of a lack of understanding of the game itself. Work with its symbolisms and sub-texts rather than literalities and arouse the interest of even the least informed on the subject without ignoring the expert and knowledgeable audience. On the one hand, they make a nod to the very history of the game with Beth's key paired throughout the series, each recreating a famous game in chess history, even chronologically anticipating events (the last game played by Beth in the series it takes place in 1968 and is a recreation of the meeting between Vassily Ivanchuk and Patrick Wolff in 1993).
On the other hand, the representation that is made of the game and the world that surrounds it is faithful and exact. Recently, Magnus Carlsen, who is currently considered the best player in the world, claimed that the series did the best job he has seen in Hollywood representing the world of competitive chess and the game itself. He continued to praise the show's performance and focused on Beth's talent for her ability to play.
In fact, the series has had a phenomenal effect on the popularity of chess around the world, generating an increase in the purchase of chess games and an increase in registrations on virtual platforms. With the onset of the pandemic and global confinement, many people turned their attention to playful activities such as puzzles or parquet floors, and chess also gained ground. Now with the series maintaining consistent popularity on the streaming platform, the game consolidated with a sales increase of over 1000%.
Comparable is the effect it has had on her wardrobe and the furor caused by the representation and nuances of each of Beth's outfits on screen. This is not something new, the influence of the costumes and the identities of the characters that help to build on their subtleties have been key in the development of television and cinema, not for free is part of the categories awarded by the academy each year. The costumes represent nuances and unspoken dialogue.
When done well, it generates not only the aesthetic satisfaction of the viewer but also the memory and perfectly links the nuances of what was said and done.
This is precisely another of the strongest points of the production. Queen's Gambit costumes aren't particularly cheeky: they do not stand out for being out of tune with their contexts or for being extravagant. They are meticulous in describing the psychology of their characters, in taking care of the aesthetics of their contexts, and mainly in empowering and enhancing their protagonist. This is how Beth's subtle obsessions are perceived, and although not so obvious, the game always accompanies her dress, but also her dress accompanies her status.
It is through her changes in appearance and aesthetics that we see Beth truly settle in the center of the world, become a diva in her own right, in the spotlight with an image that accompanies her talent.
She represents the queen. Graceful, agile, subtle, elegant, key in any game. A complex piece in a game that creates a unique world in only 64 squares.