The successful Netflix series starring Anya Taylor-Joy has a lot more to give than most miniseries. Its production involved a lot of careful detail in order to make it one of Netflix’s 2020 hits and a must-watch for everyone.
Faithful to its 1983 Walter Tevis’ source novel, it is set in the 1950s and ‘60s and centers on Beth Harmon (played first by Isla Johnston and then by Anya Taylor-Joy), a troubled yet gifted chess prodigy who discovers her passion and escape on chess while living at an orphanage.
After been abandoned twice in her childhood, only when she played chess, she found a sense of belonging somewhere, of having a purpose. Another character notices that about her during a conversation, saying “losing is not an option to her”.
Even though she turns to tranquillizers and alcohol to try to set her mind, she trains and plays until getting to compete with the world’s champions. Talking of the world’s best chess players, the legend Garry Kasparov was a consultant on the series in order to recreate as close as possible the miniseries to the real-life atmosphere of chess competition.
“It is as close as possible to the authentic atmosphere of chess tournaments”, said Kasparov.
Before filming began, writer and director Scott Frank made his own chess summit, where he and his team learned as much as they could about how everything looked like, how people acted, how it felt like, what players thought, all of it.
They even had the famous chess coach Bruce Pandolfini create a special guide just for the miniseries on how and what to play, which gave Beth Harmon most of her key moments. He even designed the moves for the most significant games and had Anya Taylor-Joy rehearse them like a choreography.
“When it came to the actual chess sequences, my background as a dancer really helped,” Taylor-Joy said. “It’s basically just choreography with your fingers.” All the actors learned how to look like a chess player, how to act, talk, walk and think like one. They even had their own false gestures and gave their characters a unique and personal game style.
Now let’s talk about how Beth turned into a style idol in the middle of a field dominated by men. She perfectly pairs a sport usually considered boring with the fashion world. All of her amazing outfits, some containing geometric patterns mirroring the chessboard, were designed by the great Gabrielle Binder.
Beth’s fashion was a game-changer. “At first look, chess is not stylish and fashionable, but the players make choices on what they wear and why they wear it,” said Binder. That can even be reflected at the series ending, when Beth appears in a white wool coat and a white hat, making herself the noticeable star she is.
Each chapter and each game she played had us all wondering what she’d be wearing next. The overlap of glamour and a sport like chess is portrayed in such a dazzling way, that it makes us all get fascinated with its art production.
Critics gave high ratings to the miniseries, praising its performances, the period details and the emotionally intelligent writing. “An absolute win”, as Rotten Tomatoes’ review describes it, with a 100% rating. It’s a story that perfectly and faithfully portraits chess as destructive as liberating as it is. Definitely, a must-watch before the end of the year.