Features and Columns · TV

How ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ Makes Chess Feel Thrilling

Turns out you don’t need to know how chess works to care about chess.
The Queens Gambit Beltik
By  · Published on November 20th, 2020

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video about how the Netflix miniseries ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ dramatizes chess.

You know you’re watching a good piece of content when it makes you care about something that didn’t previously excite you.

For example, I do not know the first thing about football. Even if my life depended on it, I could not tell you a single rule, position, or team. But my lack of knowledge doesn’t keep me from enjoying the hell out of Brian’s Song and Friday Night Lights.

A big part of that is, fundamentally, most football movies aren’t really about football. They’re about more empathetic and universal themes. Like teamwork, personal growth, and being destructively competitive. And because of this, the audience feels like they have an emotional stake in the game.

The same goes for The Queen’s Gambit, a Netflix Original about chess that isn’t really about chess. Based on Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel of the same name, the miniseries follows an orphan named Beth (Anya Taylor-Joy) as she navigates the male-dominated world of elite chess and struggles with substance abuse.

As the video essay below underlines, chess basically mimics one of the most cinematic things imaginable. Fundamentally, it’s two people in conflict, sitting across from each other having a conversation. However, what is actually happening on the chessboard doesn’t always translate on-screen.

This video essay focuses on the climactic chess game in the series’ second episode between Beth and Harry Beltik (Harry Melling). Without much dialogue, the scene relies instead on elements like physical performance, cinematography, and sound design to create conflict and communicate stakes.

Watch “Queen’s Gambit: Creating Conflict Without Words – Scene Breakdown”:

Who made this?

This video essay was created by Virginia-based filmmaker and video editor Thomas Flight, who runs a YouTube channel under the same name. You can follow Thomas Flight and check out his back catalog of video essays on YouTube here. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.