Is the Queen's Gambit a true story? The story behind the Netflix hit series

Is the Queen's Gambit a true story? The story behind the Netflix hit series

In the ever-expanding streaming universe, there are TV shows that make you laugh and those that scare you half to death. Others inspire you with the protagonist's incredible achievements and make you grateful for the relative stability of your life. One such is the latest Netflix release, The Queen's Gambit. But is The Queen's Gambit a true story?

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Is the Queen's Gambit a true story
Elizabeth from The Queen's Gambit sitting near a chessboard. Photo: @NetflixTheQG
Source: Twitter

In October 2020, Netflix dropped a hit drama starring Anna Taylor Joy. The film details the story of an orphaned chess prodigy. She battles drug and alcohol addiction to compete globally with other elite chess players.

Is the Queen's Gambit a true story?

No, it is not. So, what is The Queen's Gambit based on? The story itself is fictional and drawn from the 1983 coming of age novel, The Queen's Gambit, written by Walter Tevis. The seven-episode-long drama series is a combination of fascinating and nail-biting-inducing occurrences.

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The story offers excellent insight into the lesser-known world of chess, the lives of women from the 1960s and most importantly, the beautifully designed fashion. Since the release of the well-received series, fans have been keen to find out more about the show. In addition, they have been curious to know more about the famous stars and the true-life story that may have inspired the narrative.

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The Queen's Gambit is set in Lexington, Kentucky, but most of the series was filmed in Berlin, Germany, with a few additional scenes recorded in Ontario, Canada. For instance, the Aztec palace hotel Mexico City was filmed in the foyer of the Friedrichstadt-Palast in Mitte Berlin.

Who is Elizabeth Harmon based on?

The character is based on the famous male chess prodigy Bobby Fischer. During his tenure in the 1960s, Bobby Fischer was dismissive of female chess players terming them terrible and not so smart. With such a perception, making Beth Harmon imitate a female player was a sneaky yet fantastic way to re-assessing the truth in Bobby's words.

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The entire series covers 10 years between 1958 and 1968. This coincided with the peak of Bobby Fischer's career when he won the United States championship in 1957 at the age of 14. The actress won the 1967 United States championship, the year Bobby bagged his eighth and final American title.

Additionally, Beth finds herself living alone in her late teens after the death of her adoptive mother in Mexico City. Similarly, Bobby was left to live on his own when he was only 16 years old. This took place after his elder sister, Joan, got married and moved and his mother, Regina, moved out to pursue a medical degree.

Is the Queen's Gambit a true story
Elizabeth Harmon posing for the camera near a chess board. Photo: @NetflixTheQG
Source: Twitter

Lastly, the real-life Bobby and fictional Beth learn how to speak Russian, have a high affinity for top quality fashion and play the same Fischer-Sozin Attack when playing white and facing the Sicilian Defense. Also, all the games played by Beth in The Queen's Gambit are based on the real games played by Bobby in Paris and Latvia.

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What are the pills in the Queen's Gambit?

In the series, the green pills are known as Xanzolam, which are not real drugs. Beth Harmon chess player takes the pills to aid her to visualize chess pieces. Even though the series does not offer specific details about the medications, she first encountered them at the orphanage she was sent to after her mother passed away in a car accident.

After experimenting with the pills, Beth finds herself reliant on them, a habit she continues into adulthood. While crafting this scene, the author of the novel-which turned into a series, tapped into his personal real-life experience with the drug.

When I was young, I was diagnosed as having a rheumatic heart and given heavy drug doses in a hospital. That's where Beth's drug dependency comes from in the novel.

Will The Queen's Gambit become a musical?

Yes, it will. The series will become a stage musical after acquiring stage rights to the novel by the Level Forward entertainment company. Level Forward CEO Adrienne Becker and Producer Julia Dunetz confirmed this by saying:

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It is a privilege for Level Forward to lead the charge of bringing The Queen’s Gambit to the stage through the beloved and enduring craft of musical theater.

It is not yet clear where the musical will be hosted. However, there is a likelihood of the stage adaptation taking place in New York City.

Is the Queen's Gambit a true story
Elizabeth Harmon at the drug store. Photo: @NetflixTheQG
Source: Twitter

Which actors starred in The Queen's Gambit?

The show stars some of the finest actors and actresses in the film industry. They have shown that at the core of every successful series, the powerful story should be narrated through memorable characters' eyes. The show's main, recurring, and guest stars include:

Main characters

  • Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon - An orphan who matures into a competitive young adult chess player.
  • Bill Camp as Mr William Shaibel - The custodian at the Methuen Home for Girls and an experienced chess player.
  • Moses Ingram as Jolene - A rebellious teenager at the Methuen Home who becomes Beth's closest childhood friend.
  • Christiane Seidel as Helen Deardorff - The director of Methuen Home for Girls.
  • Rebecca Root as Miss Lonsdale - The chaplain and choir director at Methuen.
  • Chloe Pirrie as Alice Harmon - Beth's deceased mother
  • Akemnji Ndifornyen as Mr Fergusson - The orderly at Methuen, administering state-mandated pills to the girls.
  • Marielle Heller as Alma Wheatley - She adopts Beth as a young teenager.
  • Harry Melling as Harry Beltik, a state champion player Beth defeats in her first tournament and later befriends.
  • Patrick Kennedy as Allston Wheatley - Alma's husband and Beth's estranged adoptive father.
  • Jacob Fortune-Lloyd as D.L. Townes - A fellow chess player for whom Beth develops an unrequited love.
  • Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Benny Watts - The reigning United States chess champion, one of Beth's most challenging competitors who later became her mentor and friend.
  • Marcin Dorociński as Vasily Borgov - The current Soviet-Russian world champion chess player and Beth's strongest competitor.

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Recurring characters

Is the Queen's Gambit a true story
The Queen's Gambit cast. Photo: @NetflixTheQG
Source: Twitter
  • Sergio Di Zio as Beth's father.
  • Dolores Carbonari as Margaret - Beth's high school classmate.
  • Eloise Webb as Annette Packer - A friendly teenager who becomes Beth's first tournament opponent.
  • Matthew and Russell Dennis Lewis as Matt and Mike - Twin brothers who serve as event organizers and tournament directors at Beth's first tournament.
  • Max Krause as Arthur Levertov - A grandmaster and friend of Benny's who assists Beth with her training.
  • Ryan Wichert as Hilton Wexler - A strong player and chess problem enthusiast, friend of Benny.

Guest stars

  • Jonjo O'Neill as Mr Ganz - The local high school chess club teacher.
  • Louis Ashbourne Serkis as Georgi Girev - A 13-year-old Soviet chess prodigy.
  • Janina Elkin as Borgov's wife - His interpreter.
  • Millie Brady as Cleo - A French model who had a brief affair with Benny and quickly befriended Beth.
  • Bruce Pandolfini as Ed Spencer - A tournament director.
  • John Schwab as Mr Booth - Beth's minder from the State Department.
  • Marcus Loges as Luchenko - A veteran former world chess champion and Beth's penultimate opponent in Mosco.

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Who is behind The Queen’s Gambit’s fashion?

Berlin-based costume designer Gabriele Binder is the mastermind behind Beth Harmon chess player’s looks. Even if the story of The Queen’s Gambit doesn’t grab you, its fashion certainly will. The player is transformed from a dowdy, schoolgirl caterpillar into a fashion-approved butterfly.

Is the Queen's Gambit a true story
Elizabeth Harmon showcasing her evolved fashion sense. Photo: @NetflixTheQG
Source: Twitter

She shifts from her orphanage uniform marked by brown pinafore dress, white shirt, and grey cardigan to 1960s sartorial star. Her new look is characterized by check dresses, jeans, block-patterned cardigans and simple shift dresses.

For Beth's outfits, the designer delved into the chess world, the work of 1960s designers like André Courrèges, and stars like Jean Seberg and Edie Sedgwick to create a masterpiece.

I always try to mirror what is happening inside a character with what they are wearing on the outside and the checks are something that I thought would be immediately interesting to Anya’s character, as she would intuitively choose to wear pieces that are connected to chess.

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Is there a season two of The Queen's Gambit coming?

Unfortunately, the seventh and final episode of The Queen's Gambit appears to be the final one. There is only one novel covered by the series and no official planning for continuing the story.

The show's executive producer, William Horberg, offered the confirmation of this sad news when asked about season two. He stated:

The last scene feels like a beautiful note to end the show on, so I'm not sure if we want to go on and answer that question. Maybe we can just let the audience imagine what comes next.

Is The Queen's Gambit a true story? Tragically, The Queen’s Gambit is not based on a true story or a real female prodigy. However, even though the series has been met with critical and commercial success, it has held the top spot on Netflix's power rankings across 63 countries and brought in over 62 million views.

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