Ever since premiering on October 23, 2020, The Queen’s Gambit has remained atop the trending titles list on Netflix. The seven-part miniseries created by Scott Frank and Allan Scott traces the unlikely rise of Elizabeth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), a nine-year-old orphan who becomes a self-made chess prodigy who rises to the top of the world rankings by competing in tournaments around the globe.
Beth Harmon’s journey is made all the more complicated by a drug addiction she developed in the Methuen School for Christian Girls where she was raised, as well as an alcoholic adoptive mother who sets one bad example after another. Here’s how these complex characters compare.
10 Mr. Wheatley
While Scott Frank does a good job of making even the most reviled characters have a few redeeming qualities, such is not the case for Beth Harmon’s adoptive father, Mr. Allston Wheatley (Patrick Kennedy), who is easily the most loathsome character on the show.
In addition to showing very little enthusiasm as a parent, Mr. Wheatley literally abandons Beth by divorcing Alma and leaving for Colorado. Later, after giving Beth the house she grew up in, Mr. Wheatley goes against his word and hires a lawyer to renege on the deal.
9 Mrs. Deardorff
Beth developed a steely demeanor as a child thanks in part to Mrs. Deardorff (Christiane Seidel), the strict headmistress at the Methuen School for Christian Girls. Although Mrs. Deardorff feigns congeniality with a plastic smile, it’s really just a front for the disciplinarian she proves to be.
However, it could be argued that without Deardorff’s strictness, Beth never would have found chess in the first place. Deardorff sends Beth to the basement to clean chalkboard erasers, where she meets the janitor Mr. Shaibel and makes her first acquaintance with the chessboard.
8 Vasily Borgov
As Beth’s primary foe throughout the series, Vasily Borgov (Marcin Dorocinski) is by definition an unlikeable character. On the tournament circuit, Borgov appears cold, clinical, emotionless, and absolutely frightening.
Beth first faces Borgov in Paris where she has one too many drinks with a model named Cleo and oversleeps for her match. Brogov defeats rather easily as a result, setting up a major rematch in Borgov’s homeland of Moscow. While an intimidating presence, Borgov shows a level of sportsmanship at the end that is counter to his character.
7 D.L. Townes
D.L. Townes (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) is a bit of a complicated character. However, on the whole, he is a pretty likable guy. Townes is a photojournalist who covers Beth’s career as she rises through the ranks of the best players in the world.
As Beth matures, she becomes romantically interested in Townes. In an awkward hotel room scene, Townes nearly takes sexual advantage of an underage Beth before his roommate interrupts the proceedings. In the end, Townes does make a move towards redemption by reassuring Beth during her match with Borgov in Moscow.
6 Mr. Shaibel
Despite a few flashbacks, Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp) only appears in the first episode of the series. As the janitor who teaches Beth how to play chess in the bowels of the orphanage as a nine-year-old girl, Mr. Shaibel is arguably the most instrumental person in her life.
Moreover, Mr. Shaibel gives Beth five dollars to enter her very first local chess tournament. When Beth revisits Mr. Shaibel near the end of the series, she is heartened to find a collage of newspaper articles and the memorabilia that Mr. Shaibel kept in the basement as a proud father-figure.
5 Benny Watts
Although a bit too cool for school with his Doctor Who getup, Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) becomes more and more likable as the show progresses. The brash and cocky chess guru assists Beth by pouring over game theory and allowing her to stay with him in New York ahead of her tournament in Paris.
However, Watts isn’t particularly fun. He bans sex and alcohol, which is what Beth needs to hone her focus but does not want to hear. Benny nearly ditches Beth ahead of her ultimate Moscow match with Borgov, but fully redeems himself with a heartwarming phone call.
4 Alma Wheatley
Beth’s adoptive mother Alma Wheatley (Marielle Heller) is another complexly shaded character. Despite being a virtuoso pianist who never broke out, Alma is a serious alcoholic with hepatitis. Her addictive personality fuels Beth’s own demons.
Alma also treats Beth like more of a business partner than a daughter at times, asking for a 10% commission on Beth’s tournament winnings. Still, Alma is incredibly liberal and allows Beth to venture out on her own, make her own mistakes, and learn the harsh lessons of life without coddling her.
3 Harry Beltik
Alma suffers her first near-chess defeat when facing Harry Beltik (Harry Melling), a rigorous competitor she meets in Lexington, Kentucky. A bit dismissive at first, Beltik returns several years later to help Beth sharpen her skill after she is defeated by Benny in Las Vegas.
With a kind heart and soft spirit, Beltik genuinely cares for Beth’s success. The two become a temporary item while living together, but Harry can’t stand to watch Beth destroy her life through alcohol and chemical dependence. It’s Harry who confronts Beth over her alcoholism and who is there for her in the end along with Benny.
Even though an argument can be made that Jolene (Moses Ingram) is the one who got Beth hooked on tranquilizers at the orphanage, she more than redeems herself as one of the most beloved characters in the series.
Jolene is Beth’s only friend until she is adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Wheatley. Going without contact for years, Jolene shows up in Lexington just when Beth is in the throes of a self-destructive alcohol binge. She not only saves Beth’s life, but Jolene also stakes her $3,000 for her trip to Moscow to face Borgov one final time.
1 Beth Harmon
Beth Harmon is without a doubt the most likable person on The Queen’s Gambit. She dominates nearly every frame of the show as a determined, independent, brilliant, self-made female celebrity with unparalleled precocity.
Given her dire circumstances as the daughter of a suicidal mother before becoming a young orphan, everyone roots for Beth’s success. Even when she is in the grips of drug and alcohol addiction, Beth is such a magnetic force that she’s impossible to dislike. Simply put, without her, there is no show.
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