Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Intense New Drama That's Taking Over Netflix Right Now

Anybody can play chess, but only a scant few people ever rise to the level of grandmaster. Netflix's freshly released miniseries The Queen's Gambit follows one young woman's quest to triumph in a difficult and male-dominated field. But as real-life chess masters like Bobby Fischer have shown us, the price of genius can sometimes be steep. That struggle is the stuff incredible miniseries are made of, and it's part of the reason why The Queen's Gambit is currently the number-one series on Netflix's most-watched list.

The Queen's Gambit follows the life of Beth Harmon (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), an orphan in the late 1950s who enters the world of competitive chess playing after demonstrating an uncanny skill for the game. Beth is a prodigy and soon goes from a downtrodden young woman to an international celebrity as she bests chess champion after chess champion. However, the deeper Beth gets into the game, the more of a toll it takes on her mental health, and she eventually turns to drugs and alcohol to quiet the intensity of her brain — the very thing that launched her to greatness in the first place.

Along with its popularity among Netflix viewers, The Queen's Gambit is also a critical hit, so if you haven't watched yet, it might be time to make that opening move. Here's what you need to know about this intensely fascinating new series.

An adaptation of The Queen's Gambit was almost 40 years in the making

Netflix's The Queen's Gambit is the first adaptation of the celebrated novel of the same name by Walter Tevis (no, the series isn't based on a true story), but it's far from the first attempt to do so. Several other adaptations have been pursued since Tevis' novel was first published in 1983, including one by a dearly departed Hollywood legend.

In January 2011, writer Jesse Kornbluth penned a brief post on Book Reporter, in which he detailed his attempts to get a film adaptation of the novel off the ground in the 1980s. But it fizzled after Tevis' death, which caused an issue with the film rights to the book.

According to a 2008 Independent article, the late actor Heath Ledger was preparing to direct and co-star in an adaptation of the novel at the time of his death. His version would have been written by Allan Scott, the screenwriter of films like The Witches (funnily enough, Scott actually co-created Netflix's The Queen's Gambit, alongside Logan co-writer Scott Frank). Ellen Page, fresh off her Oscar-nominated breakthrough performance in Juno at the time, was reportedly meant to star in the version of The Queen's Gambit that Ledger would have directed and appeared in.

The chess scenes in The Queen's Gambit were expertly choreographed

Although chess is certainly an important part of The Queen's Gambit, like many other great pieces of art about someone who rises to the top of their field, it's not necessarily a series about the game of chess itself. But that doesn't mean series co-creator, writer, and director Scott Frank didn't go to great lengths to make sure they got the details of the game just right.

Not only did the series' creatives employ chess masters such as Bruce Pandolfini and Garry Kasparov to consult on the intricate details of the game, but they also choreographed the games' viewers. As Frank told Entertainment Weekly, "They're always real moves and it's always very accurate ... You can freeze frame anything, and it's a real chess setup."

One of the keys to successfully pulling off the sometimes break-neck chess matches was Taylor-Joy's commitment to the part. In addition to revealing to Entertainment Weekly that she memorized her chess choreography just before shooting to keep from "going insane," the actress also told Decider that her own competitive spirit helped her tap into those intense matchups: "The first time I played chess prior to this show, I was amazed at how much ... somebody challenging my intellect on this board bothered me deeply. I was like, 'Oh, okay. I'm definitely going to be able to play this character. I'm down. This is going to be fine.'"

Critics are raving about Anya Taylor-Joy's performance in The Queen's Gambit

Reviews for The Queen's Gambit have been universally strong, and the series is currently sitting pretty with a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While many critics wrote highly of the entire production, some did take issue with certain aspects, such as the pacing. However, something just about everyone was in agreement about was Taylor-Joy's masterful performance as Beth Harmon.

In a positive — but critical — review for CNN, Brian Lowry said, "Taylor-Joy's magnetic presence is enough reason to watch this handsome Netflix limited series, even if the seven-part production gets dragged out about three episodes too long."

Caroline Framke of Variety was similarly taken by the star's screen presence, writing, "Anya Taylor-Joy, a lead actor so magnetic that when she stares down the camera lens, her flinty glare threatens to cut right through it."

Allison Shoemaker was even more effusive in her praise. Writing for RogerEbert.com, she said, "Taylor-Joy gives the kind of performance that only becomes more riveting the longer you sit with it. It's a turn of both intoxicating glamour and precious little vanity, internal without ever being closed-off, heartbreakingly vulnerable and sharply funny, often at once."

Whether you're tuning in for the expertly choreographed chess matches, or to check out Taylor-Joy's acting chops before she takes over the role of Furiosa in the Mad Max prequel movie, you can stream The Queen's Gambit on Netflix now.