Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit Has A Tragic Connection To Heath Ledger

Anya Taylor-Joy in Queen's Gambit and Heath Ledger as Joker in Dark Knight
(Image credit: (Netflix/Warner Bros))

The Queen’s Gambit has dominated Netflix viewership since the miniseries dropped last week, drawing subscribers into Elizabeth Harmon’s long game of chess within the period piece. The story is based on a 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, and a scripted adaptation has been in the works since the ‘90s. Interestingly, it also turns out the late Heath Ledger was, at one point, a key pawn in Hollywood’s plans to adapt the book.

The Netflix show’s co-creator, Allan Scott, obtained the rights to the book and started writing a screenplay for Queen’s Gambit nearly thirty years ago, but his meeting with Heath Ledger was an especially exciting time for the project. He tapped the Dark Knight actor as the director of a movie version back in 2007 and he reportedly passed the screenplay along to Ellen Page in the hope that she would play the role that eventually went to Anya Taylor-Joy. Check out Scott’s comments about the project:

[Heath Ledger] was passionate about it; he was an intense, interested young man and I was drawn to him immediately. We spoke and spoke about the project over the phone, and then eventually got round to meeting up over it.

Per The Independent, the original plan was for the actor to make his directorial debut at the end of 2008 with The Queen’s Gambit. It would have been an intriguing and high-profile project for Heath Ledger after his performance as Joker in The Dark Knight. As you likely know, things took a tragic turn, as Ledger died of an accidental prescription pill overdose on January 22, 2008. Here are more details about the previous version of Queen’s Gambit:

I did draft after draft and he gave his input and we met several times in New York and here, where he was spending a lot of his time. We had got to the stage where we had sent the script to Ellen. 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.

The Queen’s Gambit discusses Elizabeth Harmon’s addiction to pills and alcohol, starting with her time at an orphanage where she becomes addicted to tranquilizers on a near-fatal level. While the project was originally being developed as a film, Heath Ledger was reportedly struggling with insomnia and turning to medication to help him. There’s a tragic connection here between Queen’s Gambit and Ledger, but one that the actor wanted to bring light too as a first-time feature director.

The Queen’s Gambit, at the very least, did make it to the screen and is currently the No. 1 trending title on Netflix. Back in 2008, the idea of a Netflix miniseries would not even be possible in Hollywood. Now, the longer format allows the series to bring the book to stunning life and go into great detail about Elizabeth Harmon’s story. It perfectly chronicles her journey, from her days as a young 10-year-old chess prodigy to her dominance as a woman competing with chess players from all over the world. And even more impressively, it does all of this while highlighting the subject of addiction.

Stayed tuned to CinemaBlend and check out what movies and TV shows are coming next on Netflix in November.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.