Amy Welborn on The Queen's Gambit:
It’s one of Netflix’s most successful original series…so let’s take a look.
Of course, I can’t be rapturous.. of course. Don’t want to harsh your mellow if you loved it — I get it! I didn’t hate it at all, but neither can I gush.
I watched The Queen’s Gambit last week, and then a couple of nights ago, read the book. Don’t be impressed. It’s not super, super long and I skimmed/skirted the very many deep descriptions of chess games. I tried to pick out the elements that were important to plot and character development — I probably missed a few, but I think I got the gist.
Why don’t we start by comparing book and movie. “Of course the book is better” is what you might expect, but I’m not sure I can assert that in this case. But neither is the series just “better” than the book. They’re rather different, with different strengths and weaknesses. I’d give each a 6/10 — for different reasons. Let’s use “different” in one more sentence shall we?
I’m going to say that if you’re at all interested in this story and how it came to be, take a look at this excellent, thorough article on the book’s author, Walter Tevis — who was also the author of the books that inspired The Hustler, its sequel, The Color of Money and The Man Who Fell to Earth.
What’s clear from the article is that the real subject of The Queen’s Gambit isn’t chess — but trauma and addiction. Tevis was a serious alcoholic, as well as being a decent amateur chess player — and both inform the novel. It’s not only the chess matches that merit pages of close narrative — it’s the binges, as well.
So to the series. I wasn’t enraptured by it, although there were elements of it I enjoyed quite a bit.
First problem: I thought it was too long. The first two episodes could probably have been condensed into one (in fact the events of the first episode probably comprise five pages of the book). Five episodes would have been plenty. Even four, probably.