Book vs Movie: The Queen’s Gambit – What’s the Difference?

This month’s What’s the Difference? looks at The Queen’s Gambit.

On my Netflix profile there are a couple of types of recommendation categories that keep popping up. One is “Because you watched John Wick shoot 400 people in the head” and the other is “Movies based on books”. Both are obviously bound to have good recommendations in them.

Needless to say, I became aware of The Queen’s Gambit because of the fact it was based upon a book. That I’d never heard of the book is probably telling you a lot about how many chess thrillers I read.

The changes mentioned in the video above were intriguing. The one that stuck out to me was the mother being turned into a rich woman with a PhD. In the 1950s. This really feels like some lazy shorthand by the screenwriters.

Often in movies you’ll have super-smart characters described as having a number of PhDs. Because smart people obviously feel the need to have multiple PhDs rather than doing postdocs, climbing the corporate or academic hierarchy, and becoming world renowned. It used to be that these smart characters would have a large IQ, but that is falling out of favour. I’m hoping it is because authors realise that IQ has limited utility, but realistically it will be because it has become a cliche.

The idea that the mother had to be rich is something I’ve noted with a lot of films and TV shows of late. There appears to be a fetishisation of wealth happening in our media. Sure, Snowpiercer, Parasite, etc., have all been popular of late. But look at how many protagonists are billionaires (or millionaires). Think about the revision of characters like Spiderman from working class to being wealthy or having wealthy benefactors.

Maybe I’m just having selective memory. There is a noted phenomenon of movie and TV show productions displaying an utter failure to understand what things cost or what poverty looks like. Like having the Friends cast living in apartments that none of them could afford. Maybe I’m just hung-up on the Spiderman example – since a big part of his character was struggling financially whilst being a hero. Or maybe having poor characters makes product placement – like a lime green Alpha Romeo in Michael Bay’s 6 Underground – really hard.

Netflix made chess sexy again with its limited series The Queen’s Gambit. With Anya Taylor-Joy as orphan turned chess prodigy Beth Harmon, writer director Scott Frank created a cinematic portrayal of the mind of a chess genius through substance abuse, struggles with mental health and even the Cold War. But Walter Tevis wrote the novel in a simple, unadorned style that’s a far cry from the stylish and sexy version of the story that wound up in your Netflix queue. So with no restraint on spoilers, it’s time to ask, what’s the difference?

While Anya Taylor-Joy is a more glamorous version of Beth Harmon in the Golden Globe winning awards season darling, the story follows a lot of the same beats. Following her from orphan and prodigy to eventual chess master and world champion, Thomas Brodie-Sangster of Game of Thrones and Harry Melling from the Harry Potter franchise play more complicated versions of their book counterparts. But many of the changes, while seemingly small, have sneaky wide-ranging implications on the Beth’s journey from learning the game from the janitor at an orphanage, to developing an addiction to pills and ultimately her victory over a Russian Grand Master. It’s an interesting and sometimes frustrating collection of changes!