The seven-episode miniseries follows a young girl who discovers she has an extraordinary talent for the game of chess

By Ally Mauch
October 28, 2020 02:51 PM
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Credit: CHARLIE GRAY/NETFLIX

The Queen's Gambit has taken the spot of number one on Netflix, less than a week after debuting on the streaming service.

The seven-episode limited series is based on a 1983 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis, which combines the author's real-life experiences playing chess with fictional characters.

The show, set in the 1950s and 60s, stars Anya Taylor-Joy as the fictional Beth Harmon, an orphan and chess prodigy who is determined to break into the male-dominated world of competitive chess. As a child, Beth was force-fed pills at her orphanage, leaving her with a drug addiction that complicates her ascent to world-class chess champion.

In addition to Taylor-Joy, the show features Love Actually's Thomas Brodie-Sangster as chess player Benny Watts, who both battles and woos Beth. Harry Potter's Harry Melling, Marielle Heller, Bill Camp and Moses Ingram round out the cast.

Credit: PHIL BRAY/NETFLIX
Credit: PHIL BRAY/NETFLIX

In an interview with The New York Times at the time of the book's publication, author Tevis said the story is "a tribute to brainy women," specifically mentioning his aunt, who bought him his first chess set, his daughter, and his book editor.

"I like Beth for her bravery and intelligence," he said of his main character. "In the past, many women have had to hide their brains, but not today."

Tevis also shared that Beth's drug use is loosely based on his experience being given "heavy drug doses" while in the hospital as a child.

At one point in the 1990s, the novel almost became a feature film.

"Many directors have tried to make it. Heath Ledger was set to direct this as a film a few years before he died. This was going to be his directing debut,"  series writer and director Scott Frank told Forbes, adding, "It fell through because it just wasn't the type of movie being made at the time."

The Netflix adaptation, which premiered Oct. 23, has been met with praise from both fans and critics, with one Boston Globe reviewer calling it "a transporting tale of an extraordinary life and a window onto a world of addiction and empowerment, pawns and queens."

The show has specifically been lauded for the entrancing chess-playing scenes, which showcase the incomparable genius of the characters. Taylor-Joy, a dancer, compared those scenes to dance routines she had to master.

"Essentially I learned all of the sequences like dances and because I'm a dancer," she told Wired. "That was helpful in terms of remembering how everything worked out."

Last week, Brodie-Sangster opened up to PEOPLE about his role as Benny, calling his character "natural and unapologetic."

"I liked his natural and unapologetic just sense of being and sense of self," he said. "He knew who he was and he knew what he was good at, what he was capable of and he knew what he wasn't good at. And he knew how to implement that appropriately to find his form of success. And he did that wholeheartedly and most of the time arrogantly and was a bit of a narcissist — but I kind of respected him for all that."

The Queen's Gambit is streaming on Netflix.