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5 Great Books, Shows, and Films that take Place in Kentucky

While most may initially associate Kentucky with its most famous exports– bourbon, college basketball, and thoroughbred horses– those are far from the only things the state has to boast about. On the contrary, the Bluegrass state has a vibrant history of literature and film both from the region and about it. Here are five famous stories all set right here in the Commonwealth.

The Queen’s Gambit (2020)

A great deal of this smash hit Netflix series about a midcentury chess prodigy takes place right here in Lexington, the heart of the Bluegrass. The series won numerous awards and accolades, including eleven Emmy Awards and two Golden Globes. Provided you haven’t given this one a watch already if you’re looking for a compelling and thought-provoking miniseries to spend a few afternoons on, The Queen’s Gambit may just be the perfect choice (and an interesting look into a fictionalized historical Lexington.)

American Animals (2018)

Also taking place in Lexington is American Animals, a crime drama based on the real events of a heist that took place at Transylvania University in 2004 when several college students banded together to try and steal the first edition of James Audubon’s Birds of America. Its unique storytelling style and host of talented actors brought it acclaim, and it even features appearances from the real-life culprits themselves as they reflect on the events that led them to their chaotic quest for the priceless books.

Secretariat (2010)

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a horse as beloved as Secretariat, the stallion who to this day still holds the record for the fastest runs in all three Triple Crown races. Disney’s telling of the tale is more than a decade old, but the film remains one of the most cherished feel-good sports films of the last several years, and not only features the Kentucky Derby, but was filmed on location in Louisville as well as parts of Lexington.

The Dollmaker (1954)

This classic literary masterpiece by Harriette Arnow details the experience of a woman living in Appalachian Kentucky who moves with her family to Detroit, Michigan. The novel was adapted into a television film in 1984 starring Jane Fonda, which went on to win multiple awards including a primetime Emmy. Though the story is not autobiographical, Arnow grew up in the region herself and was inspired to write the novel by stories she heard from others who experienced migration from the Appalachian mountains to industrial northern cities.

Goldfinger (1964)

The third film in the iconic James Bond series takes place all over the globe, including in Kentucky, where the central conceit of the plot resides. Bond is sent on a mission to investigate a case of gold smuggling that culminates in a nefarious plot involving none other than Kentucky’s own Fort Knox. A number of classic Bond tropes were established in Goldfinger, and it was the first of the series to win an Academy Award, with a budget bigger than the previous two films combined and a box office success that dwarfed it.

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