Film & TV

‘Too Sexy for Chess’: The Success of The Queen’s Gambit

Charlotte Lear

The Queen’s Gambit really needs no introduction. Drop the title into Google and you’ll find near-hundreds of headlines lauding it as one of the most-watched shows ever. Crikey, okay, big stuff. About chess? Surely not.

But yes, as journalists and entertainment reviewers all over the world stand there open-mouthed at the concept, chess has in fact made its ravishing debut in the form of a high-fashion, hyper-glamourised mini-series. Are we surprised? At an average of seven to eight hours total viewing- The Queen’s Gambit is perfect TV for vegging out on the sofa, eating your third breakfast of the day whilst watching pandemic life fly by. 

The Queen’s Gambit has been covered in the media so excessively that some have even tried to pick holes in it as a way of trying to find something new to write about. Sarah Miller’s apparent gripe is that Anya Taylor-Joy, Beth Harmon’s ex-model actress is actually just too hot. In fact, it’s rather depressing to think that the misogyny Harmon overcomes in the series only comes back to haunt her in real-time reviews of the series itself. 

The Financial Times has even gone to such lengths as to manage to place Beth Harmon on a spectrum between “pawn star” and “Cinderella with more guile and a great haircut”. As if sex workers can’t be left alone for one minute in the media and that Cinderella isn’t a good enough plotline without having to wear a red-haired wig.

You can quite easily ascribe Gambit’s success to its more aesthetic appeal without having to implicate Anya Taylor-Joy in a barrage of sexist discourse. The impeccably-designed wardrobe, the jet-setting locations from around the world that allow us to travel from place to place from the comfort of our sofas. However, what is clear is that Gambit wouldn’t have done nearly as well if it wasn’t for the global pandemic… it’s brilliant storytelling at the perfect time. 

There’s indefinitely a reason as to why it struggled so hard for years to be commissioned, once being rejected as a film having been finally taken on as a miniseries by Netflix. The time just wasn’t right for a young woman overcoming her trauma in the face of misogyny, a story of hope quite frankly. As Elamin Abdelmahmoud stresses, Harmon isn’t defined by her trauma, she is never simply reduced to ‘only an orphan’. TV in recent years has been deeply punctuated with grotesque and irreconcilable trauma: Black Mirror, Peaky Blinders and Breaking Bad to name a few. 

As, say, with the success of Peaky Blinders, we indulge in being able to uncover secret histories of humankind, especially ones that can be dressed up in sensational white two-piece costume and furry hat reminiscent of a white queen chess piece. In times of stress and trauma we don’t want to be delving into insurmountable stress and trauma, we need relief and Gambit gives us that, as well as a pipe dream of finally having the motivation to master a lockdown hobby. Game of chess anyone?

Categories: Film & TV

Tagged as: , ,