The Queen’s Game and Sexuality: Beth Harmon does what she wants

(Editor’s Note: The following piece contains Spoiler for “The Queen’s Gambit”, including the ending.)

When Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), the bewitching central character of “The Queen’s Gambit”, had sex for the first time, she had already survived the death of her mother, a harrowing orphanage, and developed several addictions and wiped the floor with chess masters who were twice their age. She reaches coolly over the bedside table to light a cigarette. Strawberry curls frame a calm expression, as if she had performed this time-honored post-coital ritual a million times. Her strange bedfellow looks with doggie eyes over the endless chasm and asks, embarrassed: “So, um … should I stay here or go back to my room?” Without looking up from her chess book, she answers casually: “Whatever you want.”

It’s the 1960s equivalent of sitting at your desk after a one-night stand, booting up your laptop and immersing yourself in business email, and it’s utterly brutal. Poor Harry Beltik (Harry Melling) had no chance against the child prodigy Beth Harmon, neither in the tournament nor in the bedroom.

She’s a much better fit for someone like Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster, AKA, the grown-up kid “Love, Actually”), whose razor-sharp boasting makes him as anomaly in the chess world as Beth’s sex makes it. After early losses to Benny in an important tournament and several rounds of rapid chess, Beth finally demands her revenge and finishes him in 30 moves to win the national championship. (Beth: “Were there that many?”) When she finally puts him in bed after a preventive rejection and turns the page of the script about typical gender roles, she announces breathlessly: “So that’s how it should feel.” No time for a cigarette.

Visually opulent and darkly convincing, the story of “The Queen’s Gambit” belongs to all of Beth, an orphan chess prodigy who uses alcohol and pills to escape her childhood trauma. The series was created by veteran Hollywood screenwriters Scott Frank (“Minority Report”, “Get Shorty”) and Allan Scott (“The Preacher’s Wife”) and is an unusual example of men who write an autonomous female character who is fully empowered is to enjoy sex.

Harry Melling und Anya Taylor-Joy in „The Queen’s Gambit“

Phil Bray / Netflix

Like a powerful chess opening, the seven-episode mini-series turns Beth into a precocious and emotionally reticent child who becomes addicted to little green “sedative pills” that are given to the girls in their orphanage for better or for worse. After convincing the grumpy custodian (Bill Camp) to teach her to gamble during covert basement sessions, she shows a remarkable aptitude for the game.

What follows is her rise to the top of the world rankings; The series ends with a triumphant visit to Moscow, where it finally beats world champion Vacily Borgov (Marcin Dorocinski). But first she has to get through a lot of men. While her complicated but loving relationship with her adoptive mother Alma is a big highlight (with filmmaker Marielle Heller starring as best drunk on TV), the show largely depends on Beth’s relationships with men – first as an adversary, then as a lover .

Throughout the series, Beth blows the lovers as airily as the opponents, always seemingly responsible, although the audience can see her inner doubts. When Harry kisses her for the first time, she is surprised by his sudden advance. “I just wasn’t ready,” she explains. “I’m ready now.” She closes her eyes and waits for Harry to take the initiative. She firmly adds: “Now or never.” After Beth was curious about sex for a while, she takes her fate into her own hands. Much like Benny’s, it’s her brushing his hair that lets him know she’s interested. He plays hard to get and assures her that there will be no sex during her chess training. After Beth Benny and his friends used several rounds of rapid chess cream, Benny’s discipline is no match for the charm of their genius.

Beth’s preferences aren’t restricted to men either. While it’s a strange moment not to be missed, she also has a relationship with chic Parisian Cleo (Millie Brady). Cleo might not be the best influence on Beth’s drinking (what a chic Parisian is this?), But she has a seductive way of helping her self-discovery. Cleo continues the nifty caricature of the French woman and asks Beth bluntly: “Do you like to fuck?” Although Beth feigns reluctance, the answer becomes clear the next morning when the camera definitely lingers on a sleeping Cleo, luxuriously wrapped in Beth’s tangled sheets .



“The Queen’s Gambit”

Phil Bray / Netflix

The only man she never beds is the dashing Townes (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd), a former gamer turned journalist and happily documenting her rise to notoriety. Beth embarrasses an intimate photo shoot in a hotel room when their amorous moment is interrupted by Roger, a peppy guy in bright green short shorts, who reminds Townes that dinner is at 9 a.m. However, he later admitted he was “a little confused,” Townes says he was attracted to her as a friend. “You broke my heart somehow,” he says. To which she replies, as only a soon-to-be tired world champion could do: “I have a way to do that.”

Beth is a mad genius, a tormented drunk, and an accomplished seductress. In short, she is every seductive male character in the history of cinema. The men in her life revolve around her, not the other way around. Whether for sex, companionship, or chess practice, she uses them graciously, but always for her own benefit. She likes sex, has a decent amount of it, and is never punished for it. She is completely responsible for her sexuality, undisturbed by feelings or whatever it might mean; all the boring drama that usually accompanies women enjoying screen sex. “The Queen’s Gambit” enables Beth to be a whole person – with desire, ambition and feelings – without compromise. After all, she has much more important things to fear – like beating Borgov.

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