The best sports show on TV doesn’t involve football or hockey, the NBA or MLB, or re-runs of classics. Rather, in all its at-times glamorous but often gritty details, the stand-out exploration of competition is a period melodrama about chess set in the 1950s and 1960s, starring an actress who was previously best-known for portraying Jane Austen’s Emma . The show is Netflix’s seven-episode limited series, The Queen’s Gambit , adapted from the 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, and it’s a stunner. As chess prodigy Elizabeth “Beth” Harmon, Anya Taylor-Joy has become autumn’s biggest star. In the process, the actress has also lit up the chess world to such a degree that the 24-year-old talent could do for the game what Bobby Fischer achieved in 1972, when he defeated Boris Spassky in Iceland to capture the World Chess Championship, becoming the only American ever to do so. 5 (not so) strange things Millie Bobby Brown splurges on The Queen’s Gambit is superb TV – really more of a long movie – with gorgeous cinematography, remarkable acting from a sizeable cast, a fine score from Carlos Rafael Rivera, and impeccable direction from Scott Frank. His previous Netflix series, 2017’s Godless , was also a great piece of work – a revitalising Western starring Jeff Daniels as a figure of Cormac McCarthy-grade malevolence. The menace in The Queen’s Gambit is more diffuse: it’s an amalgam of Cold War-era paranoia and male privilege, the rigours of top-level chess, and Harmon’s own manifold inner demons. Orphaned by her mother’s violent suicide (we’re led to assume that Harmon was supposed to die, too), Harmon is taken in by a Kentucky institute for girls where tranquillisers are on the daily menu and chess is played, surreptitiously, by a kindly, taciturn janitor in the facility’s Stygian basement. From here, the plot should be predictable: Harmon becomes an obscure, tormented genius, her gifts imprisoned until a sequence of events sets her on a dramatic path to twisting destiny. Rey Skywalker, Harry Potter, King Arthur – we’ve all been here before. Harmon has her Merlin in the subterranean shadows, and later a run of heroic challenges, the most daunting being her simultaneous dependence on Librium and red wine chugged straight from the bottle. But the marvellous, engaged acting elevates The Queen’s Gambit far above its many, many clichés. Taylor-Joy is outlandishly captivating, bringing an often wordless, physical, yet transcendent style to the role that’s equal measures intimidating and alluring, animated by a ferocious intelligence. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Chess Lab (@chesslab.ae) on Mar 7, 2020 at 11:08pm PST A Suitable Woman: Tabu, a famously choosy film star Harmon is an obsessed competitor. Her most daunting foes are, of course, the Soviets, and the reigning world champion is Vasily Borgov, a mash-up of Spassky and Tigran Petrosian, with a sly touch of current world champ Magnus Carlsen thrown in. (Borgov, like Carlsen, is described as a master of the endgame.) Harmon also confronts plenty of other rivals, all male, along the way. Two become boyfriends, and then coaches. That might sound offensive, but it adds some helpful romantic sizzle to the depiction of a world that was certainly sexy – in a James-Bondish sort of way – but that was also, well, full of socially awkward young men playing chess. In any case, the real sizzle is in the chess, which has never been depicted better on screen. The 1993 movie Searching for Bobby Fischer had been the gold standard, but it avoided the deep intricacies of adult, professional chess. In The Queen’s Gambit, Harmon completely skips kid chess and leapfrogs to her first notable title against an overconfident Kentucky state champion played by a plaintive Harry Melling. From there, it’s grown-ups all the way, with Harmon making bank, buying beautiful clothes, and fighting the pills and the booze as much as her opponents. The Queen’s Gambit could have covered all of this with some offhand references to popular opening chess move the Sicilian Defence and a bunch of close-ups of the pieces being pushed around the board, accompanied by furrowed scowls or smug grins from the actors. The serious chess community is used to the game being reduced to a caricature of the intellectually complicated and physically demanding throw down it often is, with gruelling contests that extend past 100 moves and leave both players slumped in their chairs. But the filmmakers instead asked former world champion Garry Kasparov and Searching for Bobby Fischer consultant Bruce Pandolfini for advice to infuse the series with chess, chess and more chess. Not one but two variations of the Sicilian Defence make an appearance: the Najdorf and the Rossolimo, the latter a favourite of American Fabiano Caruana, the most recent challenger for the World Championship title. The Queen’s Gambit of the series title also makes a crucial appearance, in a now much-discussed reference to the sixth game of the 1972 World Chess Championship between Fischer and Spassky, where Spassky lead a standing ovation for his opponent in response to his impressive strategy. And that’s just the start. Actual chess players, or at least their names, figure in the story, too. The great American player Paul Morphy comes up, as do legends such as José Capablanca alongside personalities and events only true chess aficionados would know: Reuben Fine, the Hastings International Chess Congress, the importance of a 1,600 Elo rating. Today marks 82 years since birth of the renowned late Soviet chess Grandmaster, 8th Classical World Chess Champion Mikhail #Tal . He was celebrated for his improvisation and unpredictability. As he once said, "every chess game was as inimitable and invaluable as a poem" pic.twitter.com/JymM002lKS — Russia in RSA (@EmbassyofRussia) November 9, 2018 Mother, soldier, superhero: Gal Gadot talks feminism and Wonder Woman 1984 A significant element almost entirely omitted in the series, however, is that there was a women’s pro chess tour in the 1950s and 1960s, too, with its own world champions. These included five-time winner Nona Gaprindashvili, the only real-life player depicted in the series, but only in a pan of an audience with the voice-over acknowledgement that she had never faced the Soviet men. Chess folks are also well aware of how much the game has evolved in gender roles since the 1960s. Hungary’s Judit Polgár made a habit during her serious playing career of taking out top-ranked men, and Irina Krush just won her eighth US Women’s Championship. Two-time US women’s champ Jennifer Shahade, with Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley, is a member of the best chess commentary team this side of Monday Night Football in its heyday. Ultimately, the beautiful achievement of The Queen‘s Gambit is that it evokes the 1960s and 1970s period when chess had been elevated to the same plane as more recognisable sports, with Fischer making the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1972. What prevents The Queen‘s Gambit from becoming The Karate Kid with knights and rooks instead of crane kicks is the exceptional detail combined with Harmon’s rise through a system stacked against her. Like any great athlete in sports, she leaves the fans wanting more. And they might get it if Netflix pursues a second season. Fifty years ago, Fisher set off a chess boom that welcomed everyone. How interesting it would be if Beth Harmon encourages a new boom. Want more stories like this? Sign up here . Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter . This article originally appeared on Business Insider.