‘The Queen’s Gambit’ Tries a Risky Play: Betting Chess Can Be Good TV
Garry Kasparov, one of history’s greatest chess players, doesn’t think much of most onscreen chess scenes. “You can see that chess is being used unprofessionally,” Kasparov said, speaking on a fuzzy telephone line from Croatia. “Very often, the positions are not making much sense.”
Chess, a sport in which two people, usually men, sit opposite each other and barely speak or move, sometimes for hours, seems an unlikely screen star. But chess has fascinated film since the silent era, infiltrating thrillers, romances, comedies, biofilms, documentaries, classy literary adaptations and cartoons. Few other pastimes have inspired both Ingmar Bergman (“The Seventh Seal”) and Pixar (“Geri’s Game”). On television, chess has guest-starred on “Columbo,” “Star Trek,” even “Friends.”
国际象棋是一项两个人（通常为男性）面对面坐着，几乎不说话或移动的运动，有时一坐就是几小时，这一题材似乎不太可能成为银幕宠儿。但从默片时代开始，国际象棋就对电影充满吸引力，出现在了惊悚片、爱情片、喜剧、传记片、纪录片、经典文学改编作品和卡通片里。很少有消遣活动能同时为英格玛·伯格曼（Ingmar Bergman，《第七封印》[The Seventh Seal]）和皮克斯（《棋逢敌手》[Geri’s Game]）带来灵感。在小银幕上，国际象棋也在《神探可伦坡》(Columbo)、《星际迷航》(Star Trek)甚至是《老友记》(Friends)中有过客串。
Which makes “The Queen’s Gambit,” a seven-episode limited series that premieres on Netflix Oct. 23, both familiar and unusual. A glamorous and wrenching view of chess, set in the 1950s and ’60s, it centers on the fictional character Beth Harmon (first Isla Johnston, then Anya Taylor-Joy), a child prodigy who discovers the game in a Kentucky orphanage. Despite punishing addictions to alcohol and tranquilizers, Beth, clad in Gabriele Binder’s elegant period costumes, plays and trains obsessively, rising through the rankings until she faces the world’s best. Which makes her something like the thinking woman’s Rocky.
这使得于去年10月23日在Netflix首播的七集限定剧《后翼弃兵》(The Queen’s Gambit)既熟悉又不寻常。这部剧描绘了国际象棋的魅力和痛苦，它的背景设置在20世纪50年代和60年代，主角是虚构人物贝丝·哈蒙（Beth Harmon，最初由伊斯拉·约翰斯顿[Isla Johnston]饰演，后来换成安雅·泰勒-乔伊[Anya Taylor-Joy]），她是一名神童，在肯塔基州的一家孤儿院学会了这种运动项目。尽管沉迷于酒精和镇静剂，身穿由加布里埃尔·宾德(Gabriele Binder)设计的优雅年代服饰的贝丝，痴迷于下棋和训练，排名不断上升，直到她要面对世界上最强的选手。这让她有点像会思考的女版洛奇(Rocky)。
With its troubled protagonists and climactic matches, “The Queen’s Gambit” resembles other chess dramas. Its focus on a woman has precedent, chiefly Mira Nair’s “Queen of Katwe,” which Kasparov recommends. But when it comes to chess positions — the particular arrangement of pieces on the board — no other work rivals this one in terms of both number and painstaking accuracy.
有了麻烦缠身的主角和高潮迭起的比赛，《后翼弃兵》与其他国际象棋戏剧就有了相似之处。将重点放在女性身上已有先例，首当其冲就是米拉·奈尔(Mira Nair)执导的《卡推女王》(Queen of Katwe)，卡斯帕罗夫也力荐这部作品。但要论棋位——即棋盘上棋子的特殊排列方法——没有作品能在数量和精细度上与这部剧匹敌。
“It is as close as possible to the authentic atmosphere of chess tournaments,” said Kasparov, who consulted on the series.
It’s also exceedingly faithful to its source material, a slender 1983 novel written by Walter Tevis, an author with a knack for books that Hollywood wanted: “The Hustler,” “The Color of Money,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” Tevis, a respectable club player, could delight even non-players with chess’s rhythms and language: the Sicilian Defense the Semi-Slav Variation, the Falkbeer Counter Gambit, the Ruy Lopez. The book borrows its name from an opening move in play since the 15th century.
它也非常忠实于原作，这是沃尔特·特维斯(Walter Tevis)在1983年创作的一部篇幅不大的小说，这位作家深受好莱坞的喜爱：《江湖浪子》(The Hustler)、《金钱本色》(The Color of Money)、《天外来客》(The Man Who Fell to Earth)都是他的作品。特维斯是一位备受尊重的俱乐部棋手，他的下棋节奏和文风甚至能让门外汉都兴趣盎然：西西里防御、半斯拉夫防御、佛克比尔反弃兵、西班牙开局。这本书的名字取自15世纪起就在使用的一种开局方式。
In the early 1990s, the screenwriter Allan Scott (“Don’t Look Now”) acquired the rights to the novel and wrote a film script. The director Michael Apted expressed interest, as did Bernardo Bertolucci. Molly Ringwald was likely to star. In 2008, Heath Ledger, a chess enthusiast, signed on to direct, with Ellen Page as Beth.
20世纪90年代初，编剧阿兰·斯科特（Allan Scott，《威尼斯疑魂》[Don’t Look Now]）获得了这部小说的版权，并撰写了电影剧本。迈克尔·艾普特(Michael Apted)和贝纳多·贝托鲁奇(Bernardo Bertolucci)导演都表达过兴趣。莫莉·林沃德(Molly Ringwald)可能会出演。2008年，国际象棋爱好者希斯·莱杰(Heath Ledger)已经签约执导，定由艾伦·佩吉(Ellen Page)饰演贝丝。
Then Ledger died of a prescription drug overdose before preproduction began. The project stalled.
“It was a very tough movie to get made,” William Horberg, a producer long involved with the property, said.
But it didn’t have to be a movie. A few years ago, the writer and director Scott Frank, who had read the book in the ’90s, took an interest. Having written and directed “Godless,” a feature script that evolved into an Emmy-winning limited series for Netflix, Frank thought that “The Queen’s Gambit” could be redeveloped in a similar fashion. Netflix agreed.
Which may have been a risk. The novel is brief. Dialogue is spare and the action beyond the gameboard minimal. But Frank, who created the series with Scott, wanted the space to fill in histories and themes that the novel elided.
“If you did it as a movie, it becomes a sports movie: ‘Is she going to beat the Russian guy?’” Frank said. “And that’s not what the book is about. For me, it’s about the pain and cost of being so gifted.”
He wrote six episodes, then realized he needed seven. Why? “Chess takes time,” he said.
It certainly can. In 2018, the first game of the championship match at the world chess championship lasted as long as the series. (It ended in a draw.) So that became Scott’s challenge: how much chess to show, how much time to give it. Too much time spent on the games and you risked alienating non-players. Too little and you lost the sports underdog story that gives the series its shape. “The Queen’s Gambit” may be more than just a sports story — with extremely chic uniforms — but that remains its deep structure.
Before production began, Frank hosted what he called a “chess summit.” In Berlin, where Frank would shoot the series, he and the editor Michelle Tesoro met with chess experts to try and learn as much as they could about the look and feel and even the smell of chess tournaments. They quizzed experts on the style of the pieces, the thickness of the board, the arrangement of tables and audience.
The celebrated chess coach Bruce Pandolfini, who had advised Tevis on the novel, created a bible of games and positions for the series, signifying key moments in Harmon’s play. He tried for moves with symbolic heft, like an exchange of pawns or a queen sacrifice. Kasparov inspected these positions and also designed the moves for the most significant games.
Kasparov also gave the production some tips about tournament play, even as he doubted that any series could reflect the real atmosphere of a chess competition with complete accuracy.
“But trust me,” he said. “This is as close as one can have it.”
Very few of the actors were chess enthusiasts. So Pandolfini coached them on how to look like players — how to hold the pieces, when to hit the chess clock. Even viewers who didn’t know chess might pick up on false gestures, Pandolfini reasoned.
Actors had to learn move after move in sequence, so Pandolfini developed mnemonics and visual cues to help them. “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.”
Conveying Beth’s complicated inner life while sliding a queen’s pawn forward wasn’t a problem for her. “Her deep passion for chess is the passion that I have for my art,” Taylor-Joy said. “It felt easy to transfer the emotion.”