The Queen’s Gambit, the Netflix limited series starring Anya Taylor-Joy as a troubled chess prodigy, was viewed by 62 million households in its first 28 days, making it Netflix’s most-watched limited series to date, the streaming service announced Monday.
The series, created by Scott Frank and Aaron Scott, is based on the novel by Walter Tevis about a girl who learns chess in an orphanage after her mother’s death. She also develops an addiction to tranquilizers that later manifests itself in a reliance on pills and alcohol — even as she rises through the ranks to become one of the greatest chess players alive. The 1960s set drama and earned widespread critical acclaim, and, according to Netflix, gotten more than a few people to dust off their chess boards.
“Google searches for ‘How to play chess’ have hit a nine-year peak,” Netflix tweeted.
The series also made the Top 10 in 92 countries, and ranked No. 1 in 63 countries. And Tevis’ novel has entered The New York Times bestseller list, 37 years after its release.
The Queen’s Gambit had a long, complicated journey to the screen. Allan Scott (the pen name of Alan Shiach) acquired the rights to the 1983 novel in 1992. Coal Miner’s Daughter director Michael Apted was involved at one point, as was Last Tango in Paris director Bernardo Bertolucci, Schiach told The Independent newspaper. But the film went years without coming to the screen.
Then, Schiach says, he received several calls from three people who wanted to direct The Queen’s Gambit — including Heath Ledger. The Dark Knight star Heath Ledger is one of several moviemakers who had a strong interest in the novel — and was pursuing a film adaptation with Allan Scott, aka Allan Shiach, when he died of a drug overdose. The film would have been Ledger’s feature directorial debut.
Scott is the pen name of Shiach, who went on to co-create the Netflix version of The Queen’s Gambit with Frank. In a 2008 interview with The Independent newspaper, Shiach noted that Ledger, like Beth Harmon, struggled with prescription drugs.
“Everyone knows Heath was a user of prescription drugs; and that he had addiction issues when he was a young man. On a personal level I am incredibly sad. One is always sad to lose someone as a friend. But, what is more, the movie business lost a real talent. I think he would have been an extraordinary director,” Shiach said.
When Ledger died in 2008, those plans were set aside. But then Frank came aboard. The writer, director, and executive producer of The Queen’s Gambit is known as one of Hollywood’s greatest when it comes to adapting others’ material: He previously received nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay for Out of Sight in 1998 and Logan in 2017.
Scott/Shiach has written or co-written more than a dozen films, including five directed by Nicolas Roeg. He is also the originator, co-producer and co-writer of the stage musical adaptation of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Tevis had a long cinematic history, and chess isn’t the only game that fascinated him: He wrote the novels that became the basis of The Hustler, as well as its semi-sequel, The Color of Money, which are both about a pool player played by Paul Newman.
Tevis died at age 56 in 1984, a year after The Queen’s Gambit was published.
Though Heath Ledger and Anya Taylor-Joy likely never met — her acting debut was in 2014’s Vampire Academy — they share a cinematic connection.
Ledger was one of the actors George Miller considered for the role of Max Rockatansky in the film that eventually became Mad Max: Fury Road, in which Tom Hardy played the grizzled road warrior. Charlize Theron played Imperator Furiosa, the role that Taylor-Joy will take on in an upcoming Mad Max spinoff, to be entitled Furiosa.
The Queen’s Gambit is now streaming on Netflix.