A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Queen's Gambit is a fictional series about a young female chess prodigy in the 1960s. Based on the novel by Walter Tevis, it deals with themes including mental illness, suicide, and addiction. Young children in an orphanage are shown being given tranquilizers (apparently legally), but they also take them recreationally. The lead character struggles with drug and alcohol abuse, an issue that is furthered when her adoptive mother turns her into a drinking buddy. There are some simulated sex scenes, but no nudity. Occasional harsh language includes terms like "damn," "hell," "f--k," and "c--ksucker."
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What's the story?
THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT centers on young Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), orphaned at 9 when her brilliant but troubled mother, seemingly on purpose, crashes their car and dies. She's sent to live at The Methuen School, where the children are made docile with a daily dose of strong tranquilizers, pills that Beth soon learns to squirrel away and take for recreational purposes. Under the begrudging tutelage of a gruff janitor, she learns to play chess and displays the skills of a legitimate prodigy, besting male players many years her senior. Over time, she grows increasingly competitive, traveling the country and world with her adoptive mother and enabler Anna (Marielle Heller). As she matures, her fixation with chess is rivaled only by her troubles with drugs and alcohol -- an addiction that may ruin her before she achieves her goal of besting her fiercest opponent, the Russian champ Vasily Borgov (Marcin Dorocinski).
Is it any good?
Some elements of Beth Harmon's story stretch credulity, but this is an absolutely gorgeous-looking fairy tale, well-acted enough to gloss over some of the less believable aspects. It's not the fact that she's a chess genius that's hard to swallow, but the way this happens in the 1960s, yet she appears to face very little conflict in terms of male acceptance as she rises the ranks. Some male players scoff at the idea of a female entering their field, sure, but she's almost immediately met with respect and admiration, even if there is a touch of envy in it.
Like many savant-centered stories, this one (which is based on the novel by Walter Tevis) attempts to examine the complexities of fame and genius -- the idea that someone has to be a little "crazy" to be exceptional, and how detrimental that can be to one's personal life. But even Beth's substance abuse problems don't truly threaten her until far into her career, as she is aided in her growing reliance on booze by her adoptive mother/agent Alma. This relationship is perhaps the most interesting in the series, and Marielle Heller -- better known as the director of films like Can You Ever Forgive Me? and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood -- gives a nuanced performance full of pathos and genuine warmth; she should absolutely be acting more often. Anya Taylor-Joy does wonderful work here also, her still face and expressive eyes hinting at the deep pain and drive bubbling under the surface. The series may ultimately be a rags-to-riches fantasy and not so much the deep drama it aims for, but darn if it isn't a great one.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why the people around Beth are shocked that she is so good at chess, and at such a young age. Is it her gender, or maybe the time period? How different might the chess world look if more girls were encouraged to play?
What is it about playing chess that Beth finds so attractive? Given what we know about her biological mother, how might her obsessive fixation on the game relate to the "thin line between madness and genius" that she's warned about by others? Do you think this is a real thing?
Families can talk about chess. Why do you think it's remained popular over such a long period of time?
Our editors recommend
For kids who love drama
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