TV review: The Queen's Gambit
For those of us who feel mentally neanderthal when confronted with chess, a show based on the game does not seem like a wise move, yet ultimately makes all the right ones.
In fact, this seven-episode miniseries might be the best thing Netflix has produced.
Based on the novel of the same name, the show hits on every level - especially story and acting.
The first episode alone would work as a standalone movie.
The focus here is on Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), an emotionally closed-off orphan who, while developing an early liking for tranquilisers, also discovers a talent for chess.
Once adopted, she also discovers chess contests come with prize money and is thrown into a world of international fame and analytical thinkers.
Think of it as the story of a rock star, or one of the truly great sports biopics.
It is a tale of obsession, addiction, of the trouble with natural talent, and growing up with fame and its expectations.
Except this is not a true story. The reason we know this is because the characters are fully rounded in a way the typical biopic refuses to allow.
Unlike so many films about real events, the characters here work beyond cliches simply there to facilitate a set piece or plot point.
The fact that you are constantly surprised by The Queen's Gambit's refusal to fall for trite, well-trodden tropes is what makes this one of the most refreshing series for such a long time.
Had it been pushed out in weekly episodes, it would likely have caught the attention to a level where we'd be asking, "what election?".
Created by Scott Frank and Allan Scott, the show is set in the 60s - and as Mad Men proved, a perfect decade for on-screen style.
Frank also directs and manages to turn scenes of what is essentially two people staring at boards into a fight club, flamenco or even flirtation.
Those gorgeous 60s hotel lounge designs help too.
Of course, the key here is Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Split, Emma, The New Mutants).
Like Beth, she is close to achieving grandmaster level.
It is an amazing performance that credibly takes us from shy early teens to confident young woman.
If you are going to spend a sizeable amount of time focusing on a face, deep in concentration, then Taylor-Joy has the eyes for the job.
And yet her physical performance does so much with so little movement - reading her demeanour, the darting of the eyes, to see the calculations, the moment she sees victory, or defeat.
The rest of the cast is great, Marielle Heller as Beth's adoptive mother and Isla Johnston as young Beth are particularly wonderful.
But like in chess, every piece is in service to the queen.