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The Queen’s Gambit: An Exact, Successful Adaptation of the Book

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Soon after releasing on Netflix, The Queen’s Gambit, a seven-episode series, has quickly found its way among the top three trending shows on the streaming platform.

The popularity is well deserved. One is perhaps, yet to come across a series with a more exact adaptation of a novel.

Based on the 1983 American novel of the same name, The Queen’s Gambit explores the life of a fictional orphaned chess prodigy.

Each description and dialogue from the book, written by Walter Tevis, has been dutifully incorporated into the series by creators Scott Frank and Allan Scott.

As the plot develops, we see protagonist Beth Harmon in a constant quest to find herself, while trying to establish herself as an expert in her game. 

The context 

Set in 1983, the Netflix show takes the audience right into life at Methuen Home, an orphanage in Mount Sterling, Kentucky.

At an early age, Beth Harmon (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) is introduced to both chess as well as drugs. The orphanage makes it mandatory for all children to take drugs (tranquillisers), described as green pills.

Beth’s life goes through a whirlwind of emotions after her adoption by Alma Wheatley (Marielle Heller) and her husband Allston Wheatley (Patrick Kennedy).

The story intertwines key social evils of that era by portraying dependency on alcohol and drugs, and rampant racism and sexism with the world of chess.

Besides highlighting her journey of becoming a grandmaster, the series also shows Beth’s sexual and mental transformation as she grows up into a young woman.

A replica

(Credit: Netflix)

Tevis did not dramatise scenes in his 1983 novel. Beth’s introduction as an orphan is written in a simple manner.

In the series, however, the makers fill the gaps of how her mother died in an accident by showing snippets of it. This raises the question of the presence of her father, who is described in the novel as an alcoholic nobody. To show what happened to Beth’s father and how she became an orphan, the series sheds light on her parent’s troubled marriage. In the series, Beth recalls her father as a tall, slender man who deserts her mother for another woman. 

The creators took the liberty of adding Beth’s biological father in the introduction to highlight why and how ‘a girl in a plain dress’ ended up at an orphanage.

Taking after the book, the series portrays the sisterhood between Jolene (Moses Ingram), an older girl at the orphanage and Beth. Jolene becomes an anchor to Beth and an older companion, who looks after her. Both the book and series have discussed the on-and-off bonding between the two girls. 

Both the book as well as the series dedicate a significant part to depicting the chess moves.

While the chess moves might come across as difficult to follow in the novel, the visual emphasis to the game in the series makes it easier to grasp.

The series’ apt depictions of the orphanage, Beth’s first-ever game and her opponent make it an engaging watch.

Both the author of the book and the creators of the show paint a bold and honest picture of the time in which the story is set.

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