If there was a topic you might not guess would generate the #1 most-watched show on Netflix, chess would probably be on your list. Not that chess isn’t an interesting game or topic, but historically there aren’t too many movies or TV shows based on it. Certainly, there have been a few over the years, the most famous probably being Searching for Bobby Fisher in 1993, but since then, I think The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix is probably the most popular.
So, how does a show set largely in the 1960s and 1970s and focused on a chess prodigy’s life become so popular? Probably a few key reasons.
An Engaging Story
The series, based on the 1983 novel of the same name, brings us the coming of age story of its main character, Beth Harmon. The story largely begins with her entry into an orphanage after her mother dies. While not a true story, it has the feel of one and the fact that this became a popular search on Google after the show’s release suggests that a lot of viewers felt the same way.
While Beth’s immersion into the game of chess as she grows up and becomes a champion is the key narrative element to the story, it also deals with her personal struggles with drug addiction. This obviously adds a personal element to a story about a game that many people have never played.
The main character is played by Anya Taylor-Joy (as a teenager and adult) and her performance has received very positive reviews. Since she is in virtually every scene, the show really does hang on her ability to inhabit the character of Beth and bring her to life for the viewer. For me, she really delivered.
Additionally, the film includes a number of strong performances from actors who play Beth’s best friend in the orphanage, the janitor who introduces her to chess, and various other chess players who play pivotal roles in her life.
A Rousing Third Act
Without giving too much away, the ‘third act’ of the series reaches a rousing climax. The series can easily be looked at as a sports story since it revolves largely around Beth’s chess competitions, her unique mastery of the game, and an eventual showdown with the Russian world champion.
Let’s just say that viewers likely won’t be left disappointed by the ending. It’s not easy to turn a game of chess into an edge of your seat experience, but the show pulls it off nicely.
One review of The Queen’s Gambit said that one of its strongest points for some viewers is that there is no season 2 to wait for. The story reaches a satisfying conclusion and there was no second book to tell an ongoing story. Who knows if Netflix might not try to cash in on the success of the series with a second season, but as a viewer, it's the rare case these days when you can sit down to binge a single season of a series and know that when it’s over, you will find an end, without being left hanging to see what happens next season.