Tenacity is a skill we could all do with more of right now – and it certainly came in useful for the producer behind The Queen’s Gambit, who waited over three decades to see his smash-hit Netflix show come to life on our screens.
Chess is a game of mental dexterity and grit. And – although producer Allan Scott says he’s no great player – he needed both skills in abundance to create Netflix’s latest runaway success, The Queen’s Gambit.
Based on a young female chess prodigy who made a name for herself in Cold War-era America, the critically acclaimed show clocked up a record 62 million viewers since airing this autumn, with a number one rating on streaming platform in 63 countries worldwide.
But the limited series, based on the 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, nearly didn’t get made at all.
Scott brought the TV and film rights to the epic chess drama in the late 1980s. But – despite having a legion of cult movie hits to his name, including Shallow Grave and Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert – he struggled to get studios on-board with the project.
Many felt the subject matter was too dull to take off (proving the premise of the story: never underestimate chess or the players behind it). Scott rewrote the script nine times in order to get it right; and even then a slated film version was cut short by the tragic death of Heath Ledger, who was set to come on-board as a director for the project.
When Scott finally saw his work come to life as the series aired on Netflix a few months ago, another twist of fate meant he wasn’t well enough to appreciate the moment.
“I’ve spent so long on The Queen’s Gambit, and in the past few months I’ve spent every waking moment thinking about it,” the producer told The Sunday Post last month. “I was ill with Covid in hospital when it was broadcast on Netflix for the first time. […] When I watched from my hospital bed I got a bit confused and thought that it was another episode I’d been sent to help with the edit.”
As pointed out in a viral tweet this week (below), Scott’s eventual success is a lesson to us all in the power of pure old-fashioned tenacity.
In a world where so many of us crave instant recognition, with attention spans that are measured in seconds not hours or day, the kind of slow-burn success that Scott achieved with The Queen’s Gambit is a potent reminder to slow things down. If you think you have a great idea – whether a book or a new business – it’s worth sticking with it through thick and thin.
The Queen’s Gambit follows the journey of chess prodigy Beth Harmon (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), whose incredible skills put her on a collision course with veteran male champions in the baby boom era of 1950s and 60s America.
“Men are going to come along and want to teach you things; doesn’t make them any smarter,” Beth is warned, as her confidence in the game begins to flourish.
Soon enough, Beth is on course to become one of the world’s greatest chess players, smashing down gender barriers everywhere she goes. But as she grows older, a darker element emerges to her sensational success story.
Foisted into the glare of the public eye, Beth struggles with mental illness (“creativity and psychosis often go hand-in-hand,” she is told by one reporter), and at the same time develops an addiction to tranquilizers. These inner battles swirl around her as her notoriety in the chess world reaches fever pitch, and she prepares to go up against a Russian grandmaster in the ultimate showdown.
The compelling story was released as a seven-part drama on Netflix in October, and has picked up a storm of plaudits ever since. Fans include Stephen King, who took to Twitter a few months ago to hail the “utterly thrilling” show.
“What we show in the movie was true; there were no women chess players [of that era] in any chess club or reckoned at any level,” Scott told the BBC this week. “And I can’t think why because women are as capable of playing chess as men. It’s a very mysterious thing, that.”
The Queen’s Gambit is available to watch on Netflix now.
Images: Courtesy of Netflix
Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.