This story about The Queen’s Gambit first appeared in the Limited Series & TV Movies issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
The establishment: The US chess genius Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), who rises from the ashes like a phoenix after battling lifelong drug and alcohol addiction, sets out and travels to Russia for the game of her life. The tense showdown, which includes a dramatic interruption, leads (spoiler alert) to her triumphant victory against Vasily Borgov (Marcin Dorociński) at the 1968 Moscow invitation chess tournament.
Four behind the scenes experts involved in the blockbuster Netflix Limited series by writer and director Scott Frank spoke to TheWrap about the filming of the heart-racing battle of wills.
THE PRODUCTION DESIGN
Uli Hanisch, production designer
“This sequence looks a little different from the rest of the series. It is very solemn and ecclesiastical: many blacks, whites, and grays. We had to make it clear visually that Beth was playing for life. There are no more bright colors, no more fun.
“We shot in a Berlin state building at the turn of the century, with lots of offices and this large area in the middle. However, we had to shoot on the weekend because it is actually a fully functional public building. The idea was to create something like a chess temple, like a cathedral. And to place everything in such a way that the audience sits higher than the players. Everything is very, very serious, very strict, very intimidating. As a chess player you sit in the middle and everyone is watching you. We wanted to create this intimidating atmosphere. “
THE COSTUME DESIGN
Gabriele Binder, costume designer
“Scott Frank said Beth’s clothes in this scene should be effortless, like a dress she would wear to play at your kitchen table. Nothing special – just sleek and simple to make us feel like she’s really confident after learning about style on her travels, especially in Paris. It’s a warm color meant to be reminiscent of the very first scenes in the series with her mother. We’re bringing this color back to her because she feels like her mother is with her and she is at peace with everyone and she knows she can win.
“The Russian players were of course supported by the government and represent the state. So they had really good suits. Besides, the people outside were pretty poor, but they made the most of it and had their own style. “
THE FILM EDITING
Michelle Tesoro, editor
“We had to see visually that there was more at stake for Beth. There is an international broadcast and the BBC spokesperson is in the starting blocks, the display boards and all the people watching inside and outside this great hall. We’re essentially going back to classic chess, and in many ways we remember the games we saw in Las Vegas and Mexico City.
“The character of Luchenko (the penultimate player before Beth’s duel with Borgov) is played by our line producer Marcus Loges. Scott really loved his look. I cut him off a lot because I just loved him, he’s such a warm guy. I was also very surprised by the portrayal of Borgov. It’s not what I imagined reading the book. I imagined something like Gru from “Despicable Me”. When Marcin (Dorociński) came in to play him, I thought, ‘Wow, he’s kind of hot!’ And that makes (the scene) more intimidating.
“I always go for excitement, no matter what. Because if you don’t have tension, people won’t stick around to see it. We always want to ask ourselves whether it will crack as it did before. We’ve seen her so many times at these important moments, so we just want her to do it once. “
Carlos Rafael Rivera, composer
“Scott Frank’s original idea was to make a score entirely based on piano. But as Beth’s character grew and moved out into the world, we started adding things like flute and orchestral instruments. She is now a fully developed character and therefore her world is fully orchestral. And when I got that last sequence, I cried. There was no music, but it was already working.
“I was working pretty chronologically so when this sequence came the music was there quickly because all things were approved. All of the things had been assigned to different aspects of Beth’s character. I had a subject for Borgov. I had music for (another chess competitor) Benny. So you have this kind of convergence of different ideas that just developed and really helped make the scene concrete.
“I didn’t even realize it was a sports movie until I saw that scene in it. I had read the novel, I read the script. But when I saw that moment when she was looking at the ceiling (where Beth was visualizing the match) I realized that I need superhero music because she’s a superhero. It must be so big, almost over the top.
“And if you pay attention to this scene, the sound design goes with it. As soon as she looks up and starts seeing the gameplay (on the ceiling) without the use of pills, when the camera slides back down on her and she takes the first step, a whipping sound is heard. That’s the kind of thing our sound designer (Wylie Stateman) does that really blow my mind. “
POSTSCRIPT: WHAT’S NEXT AT BETH?
TESORO: “I hope it doesn’t fall into a pattern again. I think that maybe she will go out into the world a little better than when we first met. “
RIVERA: “It is a product of decisions that were made for her from the age of 8, so she has to work through and unpack a lot. I would hope that she is better in everything and that she finds comfort in her friends. “
BINDER: “Life could be her chessboard, and she can win on the chessboard. So maybe she’ll make it in life too. “
HANISCH: “If Beth wins the game against Borgov, he turns around, hugs and congratulates her. Even he loves her you know It is a very important moment. She understands that she is really welcome in the world, and now she can hug the world. She is ready for it. “
Read more from the Limited Series & TV Movies issue here