Anya Taylor-Joy is as powerful as rocket fuel in The Queen’s Gambit, an incredibly good Netflix miniseries—essentially a 400-minute movie that makes chess the coolest thing on the planet.
Joy plays Beth Harmon, a young orphan in the 1950s and ’60s (well-played by Isla Johnston before Beth grows up) who takes to playing chess with the janitor at her school (Bill Camp … man, I just love Bill Camp). The diversion turns into an obsession—one that leads Beth to world chess championships.
Chess films have been compelling—but never quite like this. Each of Gambit’s seven episodes mixes masterful drama—Beth has her share of issues, including drug and drinking problems—with the stellar staging of chess matches. The movie will make you want to run to your nearest store (or Amazon) to get yourself a chess set.
The miniseries—besides being a powerful showcase for Joy and the game—stands as a wonderful testament to sportsmanship. Much of the greatness comes from watching how Beth’s opponents react to their losses. It’s genuinely heartwarming. As for supporting performances, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Harry Melling are big-time standouts.
It’s a shame that this project’s status as a TV show deprives Joy of a chance for an Oscar—because this is unquestionably one of the year’s best performances. She’ll be in the running for an Emmy for sure.
The Queen’s Gambit is now streaming on Netflix.