At first I doubted Jim Ramsey, a friend who I have coffee with most Sundays, when he said I should watch The Queen's Gambit -- a seven-episode Netflix mini-series about, yawn, a girl who plays chess.
That unduly confident "yawn" was the reason it took me a week or two to say to my wife one evening, let's take a look at The Queen's Gambit to see if we might like it.
Well, we sure did.
Every night after that we watched another hour-long episode. Yesterday we reached the end of our immersion into the ever-so-fascinating story of Beth Harmon, a woman in the man's world of competitive chess back in the 1960's.
So thanks, Jim, for the recommendation.
If The Queen's Gambit were a movie, it would deserve consideration for the Best Picture award. Regardless, I consider it to be one of the best 3 1/2 hour productions I've ever seen.
It's rare to have a movie, which is what I'm going to call it, be both highly suspenseful and deeply emotional. Yet Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays Beth masterfully, and the other fine actors grabbed the attention of my wife and me from the first minute and didn't let go until the closing credits.
And damn, the movie is about chess. I couldn't believe that I could get so nervous watching chess matches, agonizing over moves by Beth and her opponents that I couldn't comprehend.
Well, let's make that, barely comprehend, with the emphasis on barely.
I learned to play chess in high school, when a math teacher made us play the game in 1965 or 1966, which happens to be about the time Beth is entering the world of competitive chess.
And that's the only resemblance between Beth and me, chess-wise. I got serious about chess only to the point of checking out some books about it from the library. I'd play games and learn openings by copying moves from the books on an actual chessboard.
Beth, on the other hand, was capable of playing entire chess matches inside her head, basically. There's a scene where she and another chess expert are driving along, calling out moves in their mental chess match. Wow.
The movie shows the fine line between genius and madness.
Beth develops a drinking problem after her tranquilizer problem. Some of those scenes were painful for me to watch, since my mother was an alcoholic. A divorcee, it was just her and me in the house during her heaviest drinking period when I was in high school.
Let's just say that things got really weird, really disturbing, really painful. Naturally I realized that I was just watching a movie, not real life, but The Queen's Gambit is so gripping, I found myself feeling at times like I was watching my (much older) mother as Beth hit the bottle.
Us baby boomers grew up in an era when women/wives often were driven to alcohol and tranquilizers by being second-class citizens who couldn't use their talents and intelligence as men/husbands could. The Queen's Gambit shows this convincingly. Younger viewers might wonder, were things really that bad for women in the 50s and 60s?
Anyway, there's plenty of reasons to watch The Queen's Gambit: psychological, sociological, chessological. But the main reason is that it's a hugely entertaining movie. Here's the trailer.