Netflix’s hit chess series The Queen’s Gambit was once optioned to be a movie, with Heath Ledger directing and Ellen Page starring as Beth.
It’s fair to say that no-one expected The Queen’s Gambit to become as successful as it has done. A drama about chess doesn’t sound like the most compelling concept, but a solid cast and gripping story have rocketed it to the top of the ‘most-watched’ category on the streaming service.
Based on the novel by Walter Tevis, The Queen’s Gambit revolves around a young girl called Beth, who grows up in an orphanage and competes to become the world’s greatest chess player. Along the way, it explores serious topics like addiction, the death of parents, and being a woman in a man’s world.
But the story as we know it today almost looked very different. Before his tragic death in 2008, actor Heath Ledger was on board to direct a movie version of the novel, with Umbrella Academy star Ellen Page courted to appear as lead character Beth Harmon.
Heath Ledger’s take on The Queen’s Gambit
The unfinished movie was being developed by Allan Scott, the pen name of Scottish writer Allan Shiach, who eventually ended up co-creating the Netflix series. He said in a resurfaced interview with The Independent that the movie was almost ready to begin production before Ledger’s death.
“Heath was the one I wanted to work with,” Shiach said at the time. “He was passionate about it; he was an intense, interested young man and I was drawn to him immediately … We spent a lot of time over the last three months working on his vision.
“We had got to the stage where we had sent the script to Ellen [Page]. Heath was full of ideas for the other cast, mainly from his list of acting friends. We were planning to make a movie at the end of 2008.”
Shiach also explained that Ledger was drawn to the story because of similarities between his own personal struggles and those of lead character Beth Harmon. In both the novel and the Netflix series, Harmon deals with addiction.
“Everyone knows Heath was a user of prescription drugs; and that he had addiction issues when he was a young man,” he added. “The movie business lost a real talent. I think he would have been an extraordinary director.”
Netflix’s success with The Queen’s Gambit
Ledger passed away January 28, 2008, before production on the movie could begin. Plans for the big-screen adaptation were put on hold, with Shiach saying Ledger was “the right director” for it. Now, 12 years later, it’s become a critically-acclaimed TV series.
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Season 1 of The Queen’s Gambit is available to watch on Netflix now, and it’s arguably the must-watch show of the moment. It currently holds a rare 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and even won approval from horror icon Stephen King.