At first glance, The Queen’s Gambit – now Netflix’s most popular scripted series ever – didn’t appeal. The plot centres on an orphaned chess prodigy and her journey to becoming the world’s greatest player while navigating a turbulent and difficult childhood.
Yes, it’s a show about a board game. But give it time; it’s fantastically gripping. Plus, amidst the constant steam of news on the health and economic crises, I welcomed the light relief that comes with simply watching a drama detached from my fixed position in time and space.
And haven’t we all? TV shows have become such stuff as our daily lives are made on while we’re confined to our homes, and are now key ingredients of our daily conversations and relentless Zoom chats. In the case of The Queen’s Gambit, as Jo Ellison so eloquently puts it, the show ticks the right boxes in terms of 2020 viewing: it offers escapism, it’s ravishing, and it’s well-dressed. Did I also mention the chess?
In many ways, the drama is the perfect example of how, this year, Netflix has continued to make bold moves. Despite posting slowing subscriber growth in the third quarter after months of colossal subscriber gains, just yesterday, the company announced plans to increase its UK annual budget by 50% this year, or what amounts to £750m.
Netflix’s UK budget is second only to that of the US in size, with a third of its European productions being made in Britain. These figures are an exciting indicator of the growing international market for British content.
In fact, figures released yesterday by industry body Pact show an upbeat view of the UK’s TV content, especially drama. Blockbusters such as Chernobyl and hit BBC show His Dark Materials have driven British TV exports to record high of £1.48bn in the year to March.
Of course, the UK production industry is certainly not without its challenges and the pandemic will undoubtably take its toll on this year’s exports. But this injection of confidence from Netflix is nonetheless significant at a time when our creative industries are under incredible pressure.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy my first chess set.