The Queen’s Gambit: Playing its Way into the Golden Globes

Eugenie Chang, Viewpoint Editor

It is no surprise that after breaking the record for the most-watched Netflix-scripted miniseries only four weeks after its release, “The Queen’s Gambit” has won both of the Golden Globe awards it was nominated for, including “Best Limited Series or Television Film” and “Best Actress–Miniseries or Television Film” for Anya Taylor-Joy’s role as Beth Harmon. The masterpiece combines a talented cast with the poignant message that the strength to overcome adversity comes from within. 

The miniseries traces the life of Harmon, an orphan and child chess prodigy, on her journey to becoming one of the world’s most celebrated chess players. Following her mother’s suicide, Harmon stays at an all-girls orphanage where she is introduced to chess by the custodian, William Shaibel (Bill Camp), who soon discovers her knack for the game. 

As a teenager, the Wheatley couple adopts her and she moves to Lexington, where her struggle to fit in among her new peers renews her passion for the more solitary game of chess. With the support of Alma Wheatley (Marielle Heller), her adoptive mother, Harmon travels all over the country, entering numerous chess competitions and stacking win after win despite her young age. While the plot might be cliche with the classic tragic backstory that so many films seem to feature, viewers can still connect on a personal level with the difficulties Harmon faces. 

In part, the attraction of “The Queen’s Gambit” comes from its ability to resonate with the audience. The connection it creates distinguishes it from other miniseries, which may not be able to establish such a meaningful rapport in so few episodes. While Harmon’s fame as a chess mastermind could easily distance her from viewers, it is a reflection of the incredible screenplay Scott Frank has developed that her genius instead serves as a reminder of humanity’s common struggles, regardless of status. Her yearning for love and acceptance both in the chess community and in a personal sense is an undeniably human struggle that many are able to relate to. 

Throughout the course of her life, Harmon loses many of the relationships that previously offered her security, particularly the sudden death of her adoptive mother in Mexico City. For most of the series, her story centralizes around the fragility that her impermanent relationships create, a theme that Taylor-Joy highlights with her deeply emotional and multilayered portrayal of Harmon. 

Taylor-Joy does a remarkable job of capturing each of Harmon’s distinctive moods, whether it be her all-consuming despair after she loses to Borgov in Paris, the fierce intensity with which she faces challenges or the bitter grief she experiences after Shaibel’s passing. Her acting provides insight into Harmon’s struggles, with her ability to express Harmon’s insecurities exceptionally apparent in her depiction of Harmon’s all-consuming alcohol and drug addictions. As the series progresses, Taylor-Joy shows Harmon’s growth as a character through subtle changes in her acting as Harmon gains the strength to overcome her addiction, a crutch she leans on heavily for the first few episodes. Taylor-Joy’s ability to convey intensity and passion in her acting easily establishes her as the most suitable choice for best actress. 

Overall, “The Queen’s Gambit” has garnered well-deserved wins at this year’s Golden Globe awards. It immerses the audience into the touching story of a young chess player who struggles to find her own identity, evoking sympathy and an emotional connection. Taylor-Joy furthers this connection with her portrayal of Harmon, ultimately creating a character that is wholly deserving of winning—not just chess tournaments, but the hearts of the audience as well.