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The Queen’s Gambit – Review

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Beth Harmon The Queen's Gambit image
Netflix

The Queen’s Gambit, starring Anya Taylor Joy, arrived on 23 October this year on Netflix, here’s our review of Season One.

It’s based on the 1983 novel by Walter Tevis. The author comments that he was not inspired by any specific player to create the main character. He was inspired by his experiences as a chess player and in his tournaments.

He also took inspiration in his daughter and his aunt since they had powerful character. Both served to be the model of Beth’s personality and attitude.

How did this series originate?

At an early age, Beth is an orphan girl who discovers her true passion and vocation: chess. The story transports us to the United States in the 50s. She will live and experience a wave of emotions and learning with it, on the way to trying to become a chess champion.

The Queen’s Gambit shows that a series can be exciting, adorable, and show a great visual style. Unlike other series released in recent months on Netflix, it has a content of value that goes beyond a beautiful dress.

Scott Frank and Allan Scott are the people in charge and the masterminds behind this project. They make chess one of the most exciting activities thanks to a dynamic montage that takes away the tedium from most of the games.

They also have an incredible setting. Although the camera loves chess and its pieces, also loves the people behind them.

How does Beth move on the board of her life?

Anya Taylor Joy is in charge of giving life to Beth. In this role, it is verified that she is, currently, one of the most talented actresses of her generation.

Like the game, the character does not ask for permission to make the next move. She acts on her instincts and looking out for her best interests at the moment. Although sometimes her decisions do not always end up being favourable.

During these games, the camera focuses on Beth’s face, eyes, and hands. This makes the viewer understand that the intention is not to teach the plays. The most important thing is the weight that each action on the board has within the protagonist.

It can be said that Anya Taylor Joy has managed to channel those emotions without problems. The spectators, even if they do not know chess and do not understand anything of what happens in the games, can feel anxious and excited. Everyone wishes that Beth wins again.

The white and black pieces of history

Now, both the loss and the search for purpose are two key elements in the story. Not only for the protagonist but also for all the characters that go with her, such as her mother. It is quite interesting and striking how Alma’s character, played by the wonderful Marielle Heller, was developed.

It is memorable the exquisite way they explored the adolescence of Beth, as she only wants to experience life. Her methods were drinking, using pills, and dating strangers.

Also, it is completely fascinating how they pose the relationship between mother and daughter. There is a kind of agreement or empathy not expressed verbally.

In fact, the mother often acts childishly; she leaves her daughter in the background as she is searching for her own place in life. Yet, this is not something that creates conflict, as Beth’s character understands her. And it is not natural that she can have this way of understanding. Beth also asks herself every day: where is my life going? Who am I without chess?

In fact, there are chapters where the mother’s behaviour works as a trigger for Beth to ask these questions and keep them in her head forever. At this moment, it becomes more evident how each of the games serves her as a catharsis. With these games, Beth can unload all her fears and insecurities.

Something peculiar is how the series touches on delicate topics, such as addictions, abandonment, and death. In reality, the series never pretends to be a tragedy. Thus, it is not that this is being taken superficially, but that they do not take it to its last consequences to maintain an optimistic arc. This is the general tone of the series: one that excites you and not one that depresses you.

From children’s games to adult games

Now, it is important to highlight how wonderful the subject of sexuality was treated, especially in the scenes of Beth’s childhood. We often forget that curiosity about sex begins to exist from a very young age. Our review finds that the way it is treated in The Queen’s Gambit, through a girl of only nine years old, is very well achieved.

Besides the fact that this topic evolves as Beth grows, it also addresses issues of sexuality, desire, and love. It is very important to note that the actress who played Beth in her child version, Johnston Island, did it fantastically.

The creators had a monumental task by showing different games in each episode without losing the rhythm and strength. In particular, it seems to me that they managed to solve it elegantly. Although sometimes it can get boring to watch so many chess games in one episode, the truth is that they do manage to keep the attention in most of them.

Something stunning was the use and treatment of ellipsis and time jumps, not only between years but also between days. This shows that they knew well what must be shown to avoid plot holes; In this way, the story managed to flow gracefully and naturally.

The most powerful piece on the board

Another important point to highlight is that the series is addressing the issue of a girl in the middle of a manly activity. The way they treat feminism in this miniseries is perfect. In fact, the character does not like that articles written about her always highlights the fact that she is the only woman. She considers that this is not her most relevant attribute or merit.

She doesn’t want labels, she wants to be the best at what she does, and that is exactly where we should aim. Stop thinking only as a woman in a sea of men, because it is not only about a woman standing out, but a human being.

Emotions in every movement

Finally, in our review, The Queen’s Gambit is a charming and exciting series, with a very tasteful production. The production reflects the Cold War era, both in spaces and in the clothing that elegantly evolves into Beth.

If we see it well, the white and black board is only the space for our protagonist to display her most intimate fears and emotions. Then we, as spectators, have the joy of witnessing her plays in the front row.


CULTURE CROSSING SCORE 10/10


Thank you for reading our review of The Queen’s Gambit. Do you agree or disagree with our points or have anything to add? If so, leave us a comment below.


Read more of our Netflix reviews HERE.

Read IMDB information about The Queen’s Gambit HERE.

The Queen’s Gambit is streaming now on Netflix.

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Squid Game – Review

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The Players and Games

Squid Game image
Netflix

On 17 September 2021, South Korean, Netflix series Squid Game was released. Unbeknown to many including writer and creator Hwang Dong-hyuk, this nine-part drama quickly became the most talked about and watched show around the world.

The extremely well written, staged and thought-out show is a mix of ‘Black Mirror’, ‘Hunger Games’ and ‘Battel Royal’ all rolled into one. To make an intense and binge-able series from start to finish.

The series can be watched with subtitles or dubbed. We would suggest watching it subtitled as some of the dubbed voiceovers don’t quite match up to the characters and you can lose some of the intensity in the scenes. With both options, however, you will still be able to get a good handle of the story, as you follow hundreds of money-poor contestants take on the deadly childhood games.

SPOILERS: If you haven’t watched the whole of Squid Game yet. Stop reading here as we are about to review the players and the games, with some hefty spoilers added in.

The Players

All dressed in green tracksuits the players are the focus of the story, and the costuming made sure they did just that. In Screen Rants video Squid Game: 15 Things You Missed, we find out that Dong-hyuk wanted the players in school uniforms. But after realising they would have to wear shorts and skirts, he went with the PE style tracksuits in green, the opposite colour to red on the colour wheel… to make sure the blood stood out.

The game starts with 456 players, but there are eight main characters, who we are invited to find out more about within the story.

Seong Gi-hun (player 456)

The very first player we are introduced to is gambling addict Seong Gi-hun, Played by actor and successful model Lee Jung-jae. Gi-hun lives with his mother, bets all her money on horses, has a lot of debts, and gets his own daughter’s birthday gift from an arcade game. Which cleverly links to the boxes they use for coffins, within the game.

Gi-hun, is a great main character because through his lies and bad habits, his narrative is written to show that he has a compassionate side too, which you can relate to.

Kang Sae-byeok (player 067)

The next character we meet is Kang Sae-byeok, portrayed perfectly by model Jung Ho-yeon, in her first ever acting role. The character arc of the strong, independent, pickpocket, is so interesting and endearing to watch. She goes from depending on herself to becoming part of a team and putting her trust in others.

Her back story is of wanting money to help her brother leave an orphanage and to move her mother from North to South Korea. This puts her in a very sympathetic light which urges us the viewer to root for her.

Cho Sang-woo (Player 218)

The next player we are introduced to is Cho Sang-woo, this complex character played by popular TV actor Park Hae Soo. His own story and mannerisms are what make him such an interesting and confusing character who one minute you like, for example when he helps the team out in tug-of-war game or the other minute you despise especially after the stunt he pulled with Ali, in the marble arena. This makes him one of the best characters to have in a show like this as he is unpredictable, like we saw at the end of game six.

Oh il-Nam (player 001)

The heart and soul of the team… or so we thought! Was Oh il-Nam player 001- we should have known!

One of the smartest players in the game was expertly played by actor and writer, Oh Young-soothe. The likable old man had us going all the way to the end and even made some of us cry in the marble game making the twist at the end of the series even better.

Jang Deok-Su (Player 101)

All good games need a villain, luckily there were a lot within the 456 players, but none were as bad as actor Heo Sung-tae’s portrayal of tatted Jang Deok-su.

Player 101, comes in hitting one of the female players and leaves being dragged down by another one! His well-written character had us shouting at the screen and hoping for a worthy death, and after his betrayal to Han Mi-nyeo before tug of war, she served him the cruel departure from the game we had all hoped for.

Abdul Ali (Player 199)

After saving Gi-Hun in the red light, green light game. Abdul Ali showed not only his strength but his love and trust in others which unfortunately would also become his demise…Thanks to snaky Sang-woo.

Actor Anupam Tripathi took his first big TV role and ran with it becoming one of the most loved characters in the series. Even getting a barrage of meme’s made for the character following his wrongful and underhanded death.

Han Mi-nyeo (Player 212)

Due to the copious amounts of death and blood, it’s always wise to have a little comic relief. Han Mi-nyeo’s character was certainly that, with her frequently used catchphrase of ‘I’m good at everything, except for the things I’m not’. Portrayed by Californian born actress Kim Joo-ryeong, the loud and obnoxious character really gave the competitive edge to the game, especially in the honeycomb games when she cheated, using a lighter to melt the candy! Her character, however, did get a little grating at times.

Ji-yeong (Player 240)

Our biggest issue with this character was that there was simply not enough screen time! Played by Lee Yoo-mi in her first major role, the character of Ji-yeong captured our hearts in just three episodes. Particularly as we got to know more about her harrowing backstory if only there was a way that both Ji-yeong and Sae-byeok could have left the marble arena together!

The Games

The main part of the story of Squid Game, is the six schoolyard games, which the players must play and win to get their hands on the life-changing sum of money.

Game 1: Red Light, Green Light.

The aim of the game is not to move when the ‘creepiest doll in history’ is looking, otherwise you are eliminated, and in this game, this doesn’t just mean out! When the ‘creepy doll’ isn’t looking you need to run as quick as you can and try and cross the line within the time frame. Sounds easy right? Not when you realise if you move… you die!

Red Light, Green Light is where the players realise what kind of game they are involved in and where we lost over half to the players too!

The schoolyard set and creepy doll voice just add to the tension of this game, which is also amplified by the visuals of the game in play accompanied by the switch over to the Front Man as he watched the game through monitors whilst listening to the song ‘Fly me to the moon’.

Game 2: Honeycomb/Dalgano Candy

To be safe in this game you need to successfully cut out a shape from Honeycomb, without damaging or breaking the shape. The only tool you are given to help you is a needle.

At the beginning of this game, we truly see the back-stabbing side of Sang-woo, as he realises what game it is, as the players start to pick their shape, before knowing what they need to do.

In the know, Sang-woo goes for the easiest shape, a triangle, and neglects to warn the others as Gi-Hun walks over to pick the hardest shape, the umbrella. This game separates the cheaters from the thinkers as Mi-nyeo and Deok-su use a lighter and Gi-Hun uses his brain and licks the shape free.

The climbing frames, bright colours, childish music and gunshots provide the perfect setting to make this whole scene completely unnerving for the players and the viewers.

Game 3: Tug of War

In teams of ten, it’s time for the players to play Tug of War. The main basis of this game needs no introduction, but instead of being pulled into a pile of mud like the classic game… you get pulled to your death.

Due to the Dr, Player 111, and his extra gameplay with some of the guards. (That involved selling body parts) Deok-su and his team know what game was coming up and managed to put together a team of strongmen to win their heat. Unfortunately, Gi-hun and his team didn’t have the same knowledge and in turn looked to have a weaker team than others. Luckily Il-Nam and Sang-Woo had solid gameplay ideas which saved the team.

The setting for Tug of War, took a bit of a dark turn and away from the schoolyard setting. With yellow and grey platforms set in a pitch-black room. Within this game, we lost half the players.

Game 4: Marbles

With this series, we all had the fear that at one point out favourites would be pitted against each other but not this early! Asked to pair up the players thought they would be playing together in teams like the last game, but that was not the case.

In the game of Marbles, the pairs were left to decide for themselves what game they wanted to play, with the loser being eliminated!

Probably one of the hardest games to watch as most pairs were playing a game of chance. If you were anything like us, we were hoping there was going to be another twist where some of the characters would survive in pairs but instead, we lost some big players and learned who were not to be trusted.

Having two games back-to-back where we lost half the players each time really helped keep the momentum of the story.

Game 5: Glass Bridge

To start this horrifying game of chance, the players had to pick their order, before knowing what the game was which led to a very tense moment where Gi Hun, almost went first. His indecisiveness helping him hugely here.

The aim of this game is for the remaining players to make their way across the glass bridge hopping from glass square to glass square, hoping to land on the tempered glass, rather than the normal glass which would break instantly sending them plummeting to their death.

Again, set in a pitch-black room with a few lights this game was intense! But it did however whittled the players down to three and showed Sang-woo’s ‘do anything for the money’ character again.

The added glass blasts at the end of the game also added an extra twist of tension as front runner Sae-byeok got severely injured.

Game 6: The Squid Game

With only two players left after Sang-woo eliminated Sae-byeok with a dinner knife, it was on to the final game and namesake of the series, Squid Game.

This game is divided into attacker (Gi-hun) and defender (Sang-woo). The attackers’ objective is to reach the “home” square marked on the opposite side of the field, while the defender’s purpose is to block them and push them out to win.

However, let’s be honest we saw very little gameplay as it ended up in a fight between the two finalists. The end of the game was gripping to watch, particularly with the knives in play and Gi-huns indecisive personality. Just as we think it’s all over, rather than putting his foot in the home square Gi-hun tries to get an injured Sang-woo to walk away from the game so they can both survive, giving up on the money.

But it a massive twist Sang-woo picks up the knife from the floor and instead of killing Gi-hun, like we anticipated, he kills himself. This was a great call from writer Hwang Dong-hyuk as it was unexpected and gave us a little extra from Sang-woos character. However, we can’t help but think that maybe it would have been a bigger twist if Sang-woo did kill Gi-Hun and won the games as no one was routing for him.


What do you think about our thoughts on the players and games within Squid Game? Let us know in the comments below.


Check out book to movie adaptations coming soon HERE.

Read IMDB information about Squid Game HERE.

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