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“The Queen’s Gambit” is a Netflix limited-series. Not a show. No season one or season two. It is complete as is. It is also complete, as in, having all of the necessary aspects that make a series worth watching.

But … I wasn’t captivated by the acting nor the fictional story of a genius American chess player from the 1960’s.

Anya Taylor-Joy is mesmerizing.

But … I wonder if the overall hypnotic tone of the series comes from the direction of Scott Frank (Netflix’s limited series “Godless”). Perhaps, the people on set just happen to be passing before his lens.

Or … does that mean its cinematographer Steve Meizler doing all the work?

Or … should the credit of capturing Taylor-Joy’s aura go to no one but herself?

Or … should her parents get the credit?

Or … should her father give a standing ovation for her mother’s labor?

Actors like Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Barbara Stanwyck could brush their teeth to a packed house, because there’s something about their presence. Should all of these actors’ successes go to their parents?

And before we confirm who in the family deserves recognition, has Anya Taylor-Joy had that power of presence in her previous films? The Witch? The Split? Not in Thoroughbreds.

But … DiCaprio wasn’t powerhousing in J. Edgar. (Was that director Clint Eastwood’s fault? The makeup department’s fault?)

Maybe the lighting department deserves more credit. Maybe the gaffer surpasses the cinematographer. Maybe it’s all about the light bulb itself.

Or … maybe a production assistant gave a tip to a grip without the union’s knowledge. (I think they’d give credit to the light bulb first.)

Is making a film truly a collaboration, as they say?

Or … is making a movie merely sliding actors around a chessboard-like film set – pawns in an imitation-of-life game? Who are the players?

The ensemble cast of “The Queen’s Gambit” also matches, blends, and dances through the visual details without being too grand or overloading the senses. No moves are forced.

The art direction (Brendan Smith, Daniel Chour, Thorston Klein, supervised by Kai Kochand) and production design (Uli Hanisch) couldn’t have done it without the set decoration (Sabine Schaaf and Ingeborg Heinemann). Brilliant work.

Costume design by Gabriele Binder. Stunning threads.

But … I’m still not sure the series would play the way it does without director Scott Frank.

I think my point is this: I’m against the media making Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance out to be something more than it is. She’s well cast. She does a swell job.

But … let’s not pull another Alicia Vikander, attempting to make stars out of performers before they’ve had the chance to perform. (Vikander looked nifty with robot FX in Ex Machina, but has she done enough to qualify as the next Joan Fontaine, Kate Winslet, or Cate Blanchett? Did her on-screen performance match Max Schreck in Nosferatu?)

Nothing against any of these actors.

Everything against the media frenzy.

Also … let’s not forget the industry chooses projects based on fads – currently female leads, and a fictional novel from 1983 penned by Walter Tevis happened to fit their formula. (Maybe he should get some credit, too?)

NOTE: The trailer undoes what the series does right – portraying women as worthy of being on an equal playing field without the distraction of being a woman. In the series, during an interview, Anya Taylor-Joy’s character Beth Harmon is annoyed by an article that focuses on her gender. During another interview, she says she doesn’t mind being a girl amongst men. The trailer’s focus on pushing this topic, however, made me, my wife, and my daughter hesitant to watch. Credit definitely does NOT go to the cutters of the Netflix trailer.

Dan Jones

Author Dan Jones

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