Lead actress Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays Beth Harmon, in The Queen’s Gambit. Supplied.
The Netflix series about chess player Beth Harmon is a global success. Here are nine things you need to know about the runaway hit.
- Global chess boom
The Netflix series about Beth Harmon, who works her way up from orphan to world chess champion, has mesmerised millions of viewers and has led to a chess boom. Google searches for chess rules have skyrocketed, as has the number of signups on online chess platforms. Mail-order companies have reported record sales of chess sets and beginners’ books.
- Professional advice from a world champion
Professional advisors on set included long-time World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov. He also designed the games featured in the series. Director Scott Frank had in fact slated him for the role of fictional Soviet world champion Vasily Borgov, against whom Harmon competes in the series finale. Kasparov, however, preferred to remain behind the camera.
- Berlin provides various backdrops
Although the series is largely set in the US, most scenes were shot in Canada and Germany. Berlin, in particular, served as a filming location due to its various backdrops. The orphanage where Beth grew up and learned chess was not located in Kentucky, but rather in the outskirts of the German capital. Filming also took place in the Friedrichstadt-Palast, the Bode Museum and the Altes Stadthaus.
- Chess tutoring
Most of the cast couldn’t play chess before filming began, so a hand double was desperately needed. However, leading actress Anya Taylor-Joy became an ardent chess fan during production – probably because she learned the game from one of the best chess players of all time.
- German hand double for Beth Harmon
The hand double for lead actress Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays Beth Harmon, also lives in the German capital. Chess grandmaster Filiz Osmanodja provided the right moves on the board in close-ups of the hands. She had to learn 18 chess games by heart for the role she garnered via an invitation on Facebook.
- Novel becomes bestseller – again
The series was based on a novel under the same title. The book has also benefited from the series’ success. Written by American author Walter Tevis, it made it onto the New York Times bestseller list 37 years after its original publication. Tevis, however, did not live to witness his book’s renaissance. He died of cancer in 1984 – one year after “The Queen’s Gambit” was published.
- Heath Ledger had planned film adaptation
Long before Netflix discovered “The Queen’s Gambit,” the late Heath Ledger had been planning a film based on the book. It would have marked the Australian actor’s debut as director. An avid chess player himself, Ledger was fascinated by Tevis’ novel. He had intended to cast Elliot Page for the role of Beth Harmon. Ledger died in 2008 before the project even took off.
- Chess legend as role model?
The role of Benny Watts – Beth’s competitor, mentor and lover – and Beth’s rise to fame are both reminiscent of US chess prodigy Bobby Fischer’s life. He defeated Russia’s Boris Spassky in the 1972 “Match of the Century,” effectively ending Soviet dominance in chess. It was perhaps the last time the game thrilled so many people worldwide – until now.
- Queen’s Gambit: One of the oldest chess openings
The title of the novel and series is based on a chess opening of the same name. The Queen’s Gambit is one of the oldest proven move combinations of its kind. It was mentioned in the late 15th century in the “Göttingen Manuscript” and is still played today by chess players worldwide. Beth Harmon also plays this opening in the series finale.