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The New Queen

Updated: Jan 25, 2021

If you are familiar with me, you would know who a few of my favorite actors and actresses are. Of course my favorite actor is Leonardo DiCaprio. Along with Denzel Washington, my "1A" and "1B". This blog is about my favorite actress right now, Anya Taylor-Joy. Why not with the run she's had lately? I'm not gonna run down her entire resume as of late, but I do want to note my favorite film from her is 'EMMA.'. I waited about 6 months to watch this film in theaters, but we all know what happened in March which kept us all out of the theaters. I'm not going to say the name of it, because we know what it is, and I don't want to give it anymore power by continuously mentioning it. I will not cover 'EMMA.' in this blog though. This will be about 'The Queen's Gambit'. I want to talk about why this show is so spectacular and flawless. It only took me one episode to decide that this will probably be crowned the "Queen of Netflix". By the end, I was sure. Move over Claire Foy! The new "Queen Anya Taylor-Joy" has arrived!

This show is about a chess player by the name of Beth Harmon [Isla Johnston / Anya Taylor-Joy] who was orphaned as a child by the death of her mother. The whereabouts of the father are explained later in the show. She was placed in 'Methuen Orphanage for Girls' where she met her best friend, Jolene [Moses Ingram]. You can't script a friendship greater than these two on-screen (I will get into this soon). At this Orphanage at the age of nine, this is where she discovered the game of Chess from the janitor, Mr. Shaibel [Bill Camp], and the rest is history. Meaning this show will go down in history as one of the greatest Limited Drama Series ever created.

Out of the gates, let's talk about core element number one on why this show is so spectacular. Back to the relationship between Beth and Jolene. It's the most forsaken rule in film these days, "Character Development". There was never a moment where you could say, "That character had no depth," in this series. Every. Character. Had. Purpose. From the smaller roles like the girl from Beth's very first chess match in an official tournament, to the Head Master at the Methuen Orphanage. Every person here had an agenda. With that being said, the bond with Jolene and Beth grew and grew and never stopped growing. They were always learning from each other. The most impactful element in a lifelong friendship. Jolene was Beth's sole protector. She taught her things you want big sisters to teach younger sisters, and also a few things she probably shouldn't have taught a nine year old. Beth learned how to be bold and charismatic from Jolene. She taught her how to carry herself in the face of adversity with style, and Beth did that throughout the entire film. I think it was the most effective element of her personality that maneuvered through the film in different ways. Jolene often gave Beth looks without saying a word, and you knew what her intentions were by expression. Beth generated her personal adaption of those skills in her own ways. She never stood down too long when she didn't like something. She let you know what she thought about situations with words, and without words. It's almost as though you could see Jolene's emotions in Beth's body even as she got older, but in different "Beth-like" scenarios. Unfortunately, Beth picked up a tranquilizer pill addiction from Jolene. As foretold, did this help make her a great chess player? This was not a one-sided relationship though. Jolene also learned a ton from Beth as well. Especially as they both grew up and you saw them as adults, the influence Beth had on Jolene's life became apparent. Beth's devotion to detail, and passionate disposition lead Jolene to do things for Beth's appreciation like breaking into the school's pharmaceutical stash to steal Beth some extra sedatives. Also later in life influencing Jolene to pursue a career as a lawyer. By the end of one of the episodes, their relationship came full circle for us all to see. This was just such a beautiful scenario created: Jolene broke into the pharmacy to be more like Beth, and Beth broke into the pharmacy to be more like Jolene. That episode didn't end too well for Beth.

Friendships and relationships in this series are highly practical. Ignoring the modern day stigma of commercializing relations for the average movie goers and viewers for profit, and not tending to realistic situations in society of the time and era of the setting presented. This is my next topic to commend 'The Queen's Gambit' on, realism.

Leading directly from what was presented as far as giving each character a dynamic and focus was the realism of each situation presented. Jolene was a head strong venturous character. Beth was also venturous, but just in a different way. She was much quieter than Jolene. We all know that kid who's ultra kind and protective, and yet so confident at that age. Maybe this was Jolene's way of devaluing the energy of her own personal problems. Being the only black girl in Methuen, being much older than the other girls because she would never be adopted because of the color of her skin and her age. Maybe this is why she used so many sedatives. Beth's adoptive mother, Mrs. Wheatley [Marielle Heller] was my favorite idiom of the Cold War times. She represented, precisely, the urban mother of the 1960s so well, at times, I got chills. With Mrs. Wheatley, nothing felt out of place. Even the fact she was a racist. I don't like her being a racist person. Do not misread that at all; I like the fact she was accurate for a mother at that time. She wanted Beth to be more lady-like, and always found ways to say that in a very eloquent 1960s way. Women were to be respectable at all times. The way they dressed, spoke, the evolution of the attire was also present for the series. From vibrant sundresses in the earlier 60s to women wearing jeans in the later 60s. The most chilling summation of Mrs. Wheatley was that she was extremely lonely. By the time Beth opened up to the audience about how Alma Wheatley was "trapped", it was far too late, and that breaks the heart. She was so talented, but she had "stage fright," in other words, it wasn't common for women to be great pianist when she was younger, so she kept it private, and only played at home to calm the loneliness. She drank rampantly to mask all of this pain. As I am writing this, I also now realize, this may have been the relation to why she chose to adopt Beth. She related to Beth, and wanted to help her "not make the same mistakes" she made. Beth made a remark later in the show on what Alma did at her age in her teen years when Beth expressed how much she wanted to play chess. The transfer of the pain from Alma to her adoptive daughter when Beth had her first drink, and she felt less lonely sharing that drink with Beth Harmon.

Beth was lonely. I don't think I have ever felt more related and sympathy for a character Anya has played than Beth Harmon. She was driven only by the desire to be the best. She experienced trauma as a child with the death of her birth mother, and began looking for things to fill that void. She was a highly intelligent student, but education didn't fill that need of curiosity. She found chess, and found something she wanted to pursue, no questions asked. That's just who she was. Devoted all the time. In a way, Beth was also trapped. Trapped with the desire to be great. No matter how she tried to break out of her loneliness, she was unable to do it. Her peers often thought she was crazy. Every time she tried to break free of her solitude after Mrs. Wheatley told her that there was "...more to life than chess," it was hard for me to watch. There's nothing worse than trying so hard at something, and failing over and over again. It all came to shambles in my heart when she parted ways with Harry Beltik [Harry Melling]. A local chess champion. I had to take a break from the show after that scene (an hour break only).

This is what makes me so excited every time I see Anya on screen, and the reason she is my favorite actress: her mastery of controlling her environment. I can tell you, 90% of the actors and actresses today don't have this skilled mastered even 36% of the way. She knows how to make you feel her presence with or without speaking a single word. You know what she's feeling when she's on the screen. It isn't just the facial expressions -- that's far too obvious to pick up. The way she maneuvers and moves her body. Her tone in her words. This is what makes her such a great actress. Pair that with other great components: brilliant performances around her, writing, storytelling, costume design, setting and direction; you now have a masterpiece on your hands. I'm excited for what Anya does next. Although she deserves a vacation for what she's been able to do on the big screen, and the stream screen. Notable mention for a surprising appearance in 'Peaky Blinders' Season 5.

'The Queen's Gambit' is the new best show on Netflix. Mindhunter is second now. There's just too much that went great for 'The Queen's Gambit', and the fact that you cannot find a single mistake in this series. There isn't anything that will make you put your face into your cellphone midway through an episode. No lack of adventure. No lack of romance, empathy, character development, no diluted realism, everything worked probably better than designed. Even the conclusive scene where every one of Beth Harmon's friends teamed up in New York at Benny Watts's (World Champion Chess Player / Love interest of Beth) [Thomas Brodie-Sangster] home to support Beth. At this moment, she finally felt that companionship. She was not alone.


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