The tragic connection between Heath Ledger and ‘The Queen’s Gambit’
(Credit: Netflix)

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The tragic connection between Heath Ledger and 'The Queen's Gambit'

A legend gone too soon, Heath Ledger has had an undeniable impact on cinema and has been cemented by the legacy of knockout filmography he has left behind. Snatched away by the cruel hands of fate at an early age, his phenomenal performances left an indelible mark in the industry, where people mourned the loss of an icon who left a palpable void in the hearts of many.

Strong-willed and determined, Hollywood owes a lot to the man who went from being a mere supporting actor in independent Aussie productions to a celebrated and adored A-lister by virtue of his perseverance and creative talent. So where does Netflix’s popular 2020 limited series The Queen’s Gambit fall in place, you ask? The miniseries is based on Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel. 

Created by Scott Frank and Allan Scott, the series is set in the mid-1950s and continues to the 1960s. It revolves around an orphaned chess prodigy Elizabeth ‘Beth’ Harmon, who embarks on a quest to become the world’s greatest chess player. However, various obstacles stand in her way, including emotional problems and dependency on alcohol and drugs. 

Starring Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth, the series was well-received within the chess community as it sparked an interest in the game. 

Allan Scott had obtained the rights to the book and began writing a screenplay nearly three decades before it came to fruition as a Netflix miniseries. However, his meeting with Heath Ledger led to the duo expressing equal enthusiasm about creating the project. 

The Dark Knight actor wanted to adapt the book into his directorial debut feature, hoping to get Ellen Page to play the role of Beth Harmon. 

According to Scott, Ledger, an avid chess player himself, “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.”

Talking about their creative process, Scott said, “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.” They were well into the development process as they “had sent the script to Ellen.”

Scott concluded, “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 Brokeback Mountain star wanted to make his directorial debut in 2008 with the feature. However, in a tragic turn of events, his early demise due to prescription pill overdose- Ledger was suffering from severe insomnia and depression after playing the emotionally-draining role of the Joker- the project remained untouched, before being taken over by Netflix. 

In the novel, Beth’s addiction issues and substance abuse is discussed at length. She even becomes fatally addicted to tranquillisers during her time at an orphanage, almost ominously mirroring Ledger’s end. Although the Netflix miniseries has established itself as one of the streamers best productions, one cannot help but think of the wonderful edge Ledger’s genius could have brought to it, had the legend lived longer. 

Watch the Emmy-winning show, The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix now.