My grandfather taught me how to play chess at a young age, probably around 11 or 12 years old. I remember being fascinated with the pieces, how they moved across the board piece by piece until a victor is crowned. I thought it to be an interesting game of pragmatism and a test of one’s intellectual acuity as they pursue victory across the black and white board. Not long later in my life, I similarly began an interest an awards season and the movements of it, the campaign required to be seen during the awards season – I was fascinated just as much, if not more, by the machinations towards crowning a victor in different categories. Awards are not won by performance alone; it takes a chess-like strategy to maneuver towards nominations at award shows like the Golden Globes or SAG Awards. Luckily for The Queen’s Gambit, Netflix’s latest limited series following the life of a chess prodigy turned champion dealing with addiction issues, it bolsters a captivating lead (and ensemble) performance that could lead to a checkmate against its competitors. Unlike the chess move for which the show got its name, however, it won’t have to sacrifice anything for an advantage at these award shows next year.
The Queen’s Gambit stars Anya Taylor-Joy in a star-making role as Beth Harmon, an orphan living in a house with other girls waiting to be adopted. As she grows older, Beth finds the janitor playing with a chess board while doing a chore one day and immediately gravitates towards it, asking the janitor to teach her how to play. He becomes her mentor until she is adopted, where she continues her chess-playing until she begins entering (and winning) competitions across different states, eventually going on to win several competitions across the way. Beth also deals with addiction issues throughout the series, an addiction to tranquilizers early in life morphing into an alcoholism that begins to affect her life as she gets older. Taylor-Joy creates a character that is rooted in genius and melancholy, a young woman desperate to become the best at her game without the means of becoming a functioning person. The series itself is well directed and nicely shot, highlighted by a beautiful score by Carlos Rafael Rivera. There is a nice ensemble throughout the series as Beth has more than one rival-turned-mentor as she navigates the life of a professional chess player. Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Harry Melling both play young men that begin as Beth’s challengers but after facing her, become mentors to her as they help her form new strategies and teach her as much as possible. Marielle Heller delivers a fine performance as a woman supporting her adopted daughter in her talents and providing warmth in her life, though a melancholic character that seems to not be able to find her way in her own life.
The series boasting all of these great performances bodes well for its award chances with the Golden Globes and SAG Awards getting closer. Making it a quick seven episodes, easily bingeable and digestible, the series is a breeze to get through but also provides the audience with a satisfying story arc and conclusion. This might be why it has garnered so much attention in the weeks since its premiered; it being a limited series allows the audience to quickly go through episodes (the longest being not long over an hour) while receiving an entire story. The word-of-mouth has grown across social media as it has also become a critical hit, especially hailing the lead performance by Anya Taylor-Joy. As the year comes to an end and there are no other limited series coming out anytime soon, this is sure to be the last one to qualify for the upcoming awards shows. How will Taylor-Joy fair against legends like Nicole Kidman for The Undoing or Kerry Washington for Little Fires Everywhere at the SAG Awards? Will Thomas Brodie-Sangster receive his first ever Golden Globe nomination this year? Will the series itself be able to compete with other limited series like Mrs. America?
The series is a vehicle to show off Taylor-Joy’s talents. She should find herself sitting in a good position when it comes to the upcoming awards season. At 24, she might find herself at a disadvantage being the youngest actress in this specific category this year, but her performance should speak for itself when different awards voters are looking at it. The Golden Globes and SAG Awards have just proved within the last year that they don’t mind nominating a young actress, Joey King being nominated earlier this year at both ceremonies being only 20 at the time. Taylor-Joy will find herself competing against the likes of Nicole Kidman in HBO’s The Undoing and Cate Blanchett from FX’s Mrs. America. The nomination might come easy because of the sheer intensity of Taylor-Joy’s performance, but a win surely will not. Netflix will have to push the series even further to expand audiences so that it gains an even bigger following before this year’s delayed award season begins. The company could use the delay to its advantage by really promoting the show and launching a big FYC campaign for both Taylor-Joy and the series as a whole. If Taylor-Joy can keep the momentum going for her performance, she might have a shot at not only getting nominated for a Golden Globe, but actually winning one. A young actress with a promising career that the Hollywood Foreign Press hasn’t been able to nominate for anything yet? You can bet that they will use this opportunity to finally give her a (deserved) nomination for her phenomenal performance. Given the performance and that she hasn’t been nominated at the Globes before, that gives her an added bonus as the Globes love to honor the new (not necessarily the young, but new nominees). If she ends up winning, that could bode well for the series itself down the line.
Marielle Heller will face an uphill battle if she is to be nominated for a Golden Globe. With a supporting category that mixes actresses from series, television movies and limited series, it’ll be a crowded field to attempt to enter. She’ll be facing off against supporting performances such as Gillian Anderson’s Margaret Thatcher from The Crown and Uzo Aduba, already an Emmy winner for Mrs. America, so she’ll find herself competing with very stiff competition. It’s also possible that Thomas Brodie-Sangster could find himself competing in the not-so-crowded supporting actor category that, like the supporting actress category, encompasses supporting roles across all television series and movies made for television. He could find himself competing against the likes of Daniel Levy from Schitt’s Creek, having just won an Emmy for his performance, or even Jeffrey Wright from Westworld. Brodie-Sangster seems to have more of a chance getting nominated than Marielle Heller, based on how stacked their respective categories are, but there is a chance they could both receive nominations if the HFPA ends up really enjoying the show. This leads the way for it to also receive a nomination for Best Limited Series or Movie Made for Television. A crowded field this year that includes the likes of Normal People and Mrs. America, it still seems that The Queen’s Gambit is set to receive a nomination in this category. As aforementioned, if Taylor-Joy can win her category, that puts the series in an even better position to win this award.
The SAG Awards will prove to be different. If the SAGs had an award for best ensemble in a limited series, this one would easily be a shoo-in. Alas, at the SAGs, Taylor-Joy is the only real shot at a nomination for the show. With only five open slots for nominees in a category that includes both lead and supporting performances in a television movie or limited series, the chances of getting nominated go down. SAG will skew different than the Globes usually, but this is where it seems Taylor-Joy could make her way into both: while she’s fresh enough to get the attention of the Globes, the caliber of her performance at such a young age should garner enough attention from the SAG voting body to get her a nomination there as well. Winning will be a different issue: going up against veterans in the category like Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington from Little Fires Everywhere could make it a challenging road to victory for the young actress. It will all come down to the momentum she can build herself at the Golden Globes. If she wins the Globe, she has a much better chance of clenching the SAG Award as well.