‘Queen’s Gambit’ Netflix Success Stirs Up Interest in Heath Ledger’s Original Plan for Film Version

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“The Queen’s Gambit” has become a word-of-mouth sensation for Netflix since debuting October 23. As of November 2, the limited series based on Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel is currently the most-watched TV series on the streaming platform. “Out of Sight” and “Minority Report” screenwriter Scott Frank co-created “The Queen’s Gambit” with Allan Scott, the pen name of Scottish writer Allan Shiach. It was Shiach who optioned Tevis’ novel back in 1992 and first developed “The Queen’s Gambit” as a feature film. A 2008 interview between Shiach and The Independent is resurfacing amid the Netflix series’ success as it centers around Heath Ledger’s plan to direct Shiach’s film adaptation before his death.

“Everyone knows Heath was a user of prescription drugs; and that he had addiction issues when he was a young man,” Shiach said at the time (via MovieMaker), noting that Ledger’s personal struggles attracted the actor to “Queen’s Gambit” protagonist Beth Harmon, a chess prodigy with a similar addiction. “The movie business lost a real talent. I think he would have been an extraordinary director.”

Shiach wrote the film adaptation of “The Queen’s Gambit” himself and two directors boarded and left the project early on: “The Coal Miner’s Daughter” filmmaker Michael Apted and Bernardo Bertolucci. Heath Ledger was one of three people who later reached out to Shiach expressing interest in helming “The Queen’s Gambit” movie.

“Of the three of them I found Heath was the one I wanted to work with,” Shiach told The Independent at the time. “He 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 towards the end of last year.”

Shiach said that with the backing of Ledger, “The Queen’s Gambit” now had the star power needed to make it “commercially viable.” Ledger even courted Ellen Page to star in the lead role of Beth Harmon.

“We spent a lot of time over the last three months working on his vision,” Shiach said in 2008. “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.”

Ledger passed away January 22, 2008, months before the intended production start for “The Queen’s Gambit.” Shiach said that Ledger was “the right director” for the adaptation, the film version of which went on hold following Ledger’s passing. Frank, who worked with Netflix on the limited Western series “Godless,” would revive and expand Shiach’s adaptation years later for the streaming giant. Cut to 2020 and “The Queen’s Gambit” is Netflix’s latest hit series. Shiach is credited as co-creator and executive producer of Netflix series.

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