There’s a lot I like about The Queen’s Gambit and I finally figured out why. Much of what appeals to me in this show are the same exact things that appealed to me in the show Mad Men.
The Queen’s Gambit is a fictional story that takes mostly takes place around 1960’s America. The story centers on a young chess prodigy and her ascent in the world of professional chess.
An interesting facet of this story is that this is a purely fictional story, but it is well researched and takes heavy inspiration from the real world of professional chess. Many of the fictional characters are based off real people and many of the matches based off real matches. The story is based of a book of the same name and the author of that book spoke to many real chess players to get a feel of the culture of professional chess in the 1960’s. Despite being a fictional story, you get a feel of that authenticity here.
You also get a bit of that history tourism you get from shows like Mad Men and movies like Forrest Gump. The Queen’s Gambit does not go into big historical events, but it does lean heavily into the atmosphere at the time. As we go through each time period, the music from that period plays in the scenes. Little nuances like the use of animal tranquilizers for children and the heavy dose of Christianity in most people’s lives is there. The biggest indication of the time periods is simply the style. The clothing, the cars and interior decorating are all very 1960’s.
In terms of story structure, again I am heavily reminded of Mad Men. The story centers on an attractive protagonist, a prodigy at what she does who has a dark past. The protagonist in Queen’s Gambit is basically a female Don Draper. While the story is about chess, the chess is really just a vehicle to deliver the interpersonal drama between characters, much like how Mad Men used the advertising industry of the 1960’s as a vehicle for drama. It’s all a bit redundant and done-before, but I loved Mad Men so I can’t help but enjoy this story as well.
Also like Mad Men, the pacing and cinematography are very similar. There a slowness to it all where the camera often seems to just linger on characters. Mad Men did the same thing. I think it’s just something about dramas that take place in the 1960’s that spurs directors to adopt this sort of style. Then again, maybe the makers of this show deliberately tried to emulate the style of a success like Mad Men.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable drama. While this show is undoubtedly about chess, it is more so about the coming of age and growth of its protagonist, as well as the relationships she has with other characters. I would’ve liked to have seen more about the technicalities of chess, but I understand how difficult it can be to convey the mechanics of such a complex game to audiences who just want to be entertained. You don’t need to know anything about chess to enjoy this story. If you knew nothing about chess before you watched this show, you will still know mostly nothing about chess by the end of it.