(Above photo - Mid Century Modern heaven )
Just finished watching the excellent ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ on Netflix. Aside being well written, cast and acted - for me one of it’s absolute successes is the stunning art direction, with amazing attention to 1950s and 60s period detail. For lovers of Mid Century Modern it really is a visual feast. The story follows the life trajectory of orphan and chess prodigy Beth Harmon as she navigates the male dominated world of the 1960s chess tournament scene, eventually - spoiler alert - to become world champion.
From start to finish, the set design, costume and choices of location are stunning. Thankfully the story is good enough in itself to have sufficient dramatic tension to carry it through on its own, so the set design and props are an added bonus. Starting with the drab and oppressive orphanage she grew up in - largely colourless , uniform and impersonal, reflecting the difficult start in life Beth endured. As Beth’s genius becomes apparent we see her quickly progress up the chess ranks as she starts to earn good money and status in the chess competitions, at first looked down on due to her gender and youth.
(Above photo - Are you being served? 1950s American department store )
Helped by her conflicted foster mother, Beth travels the world and we get to share the experience with some fantastic Mid Century Modern, Art Deco and Expressionist interiors via hotels in Mexico City- The Aztec Palace, Paris and finally Russia where she beats the Russians at their own game. The hotel rooms are luxurious and grand, denoting Beth’s success, although the outer opulence she experiences doesn’t help her inner demons as she battles with substance abuse issues and anxiety. Some of the scenes and settings in the US are also extremely well executed, I like the small town Americana vibe of her local pharmacy in Lexington Kentucky, with it’s orderly stacked shelves and 1960s packaging and typography. Main Street is also well done, with it’s soda fountain neon 60s Grease meets Back To The Future look.
(Above photo - Mid Century Modern hotel )
Beth’s suburban Kentucky house is also note worthy, chintzy frilly bedcovers and lurid floral wall paper giving it a Kubrick corridor in The Shining vibe. From start to finish, the art direction is flawless and it will surely win awards for this. Like other films and series with creative art direction and use of costume, props and sets, the visual stimulus can really help propel the drama and add atmosphere to the story whilst reflecting the inner emotional states of the characters. Plus, as in the Queen’s Gambit it may well entice you back to a chess board.
(Above photo - The corridor in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining )
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