We know that Must List readers are a cultured bunch who understand that the first move of a chess game is the most important. Not dissimilar to a TV show: you’ve got to come out strong with the first episode, or your viewers will drop off and, erm, the King dies.
And on first release, it seemed that a bad first move might seal the fate of Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit. It landed on their homepage without much fanfare, and there it sat, minding its business with some aimless pawn moves whilst mediocre reviews rolled in, and people dismissed it. But then something weird happened and all of a sudden, people started talking.
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Turns out, this show about chess is actually quite good. The female lead is a badass, and her clothes absolutely checkmate the clobber in Emily in Paris. And with a rattling good plot the chess deniers found themselves watching with bated breath as the effortlessly chic Beth (Anya Taylor-Joy) obliterates Kings, Queens, Knights and cocky men, all on a board of 64 squares. Naturally, she’s a bit tortured too, struggling with a pill problem and some family trauma – a Netflix favourite – which spices up this gloriously gorgeous romp in the 1950s. People may not have realised it at first, but if you ask us, this is absolutely a Must.
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We mentioned the middling reviews earlier, and Anita Singh in The Telegraph is a perfect example. She said The Queen’s Gambit “takes itself too seriously” and has “a plot that is essentially Matilda Plays Chess.” Lucy Mangan in The Guardian isn’t much more thrilled, saying “Though it tries to rise to the height of commentary… The Queen’s Gambit functions best and for the most part as a wish-fulfilment, rags-to-riches fantasy.”
But the later press has been full of praise, with Singh’s Telegraph colleague Rebecca Reid saying it’s “just what we need right now,” and The Guardian’s Caroline Davies reporting that the show is already sparking an interest in chess for women. And naturally, the fashion needs an article of its own, this time delivered by Morwenna Ferrier in The Guardian.
First shown October 2020. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.