For an actress that seems to have “burst on the scene” with The Queen’s Gambit, Anya Taylor-Joy is actually a highly accomplished actress for only being 24 years old. In the role of Beth Harmon she captivated viewers with her critical thinking skills and in the process made people go crazy over… chess. Yes, you read that correctly. Any actress that can cause there to be a run on chess boards just might the one to save the ailing movie industry.
However, Anya Taylor-Joy had created a very impressive body of work well before the story of Beth Harmon (literally) made her a household name. In fact, so chameleon-like have her performances been, that many viewers didn’t know she was in the movie until they were either watching it or had finished watching it. For a thespian looking to “build their brand,” this actress has certainly taken an interesting route. Let’s take a look.
Set in 17th Century New England, this gothic tale from 2015 follows a family run out of their community who take up residence in a farmhouse away from everyone. As soon as they get there odd things start happening, people begin disappearing, and this film soon becomes a question of farmers having their faith tested, with perhaps the root of the families problem being a member of it. This member is Thomasin (Taylor-Joy) in a role she seemed destined to play. With those haunting, soulful eyes she literally possesses every frame of film she finds herself in. The Witch is a horror mystery that keeps viewers guessing the entire time, and it also calls into question how we look at outcasts and the ties that bond (and strangle) a family unit.
Taylor-Joy is captivating in the title role of this dystopian, sci-fi, horror thriller that was produced by the legendary Ridley Scott. Basically, this movie is Frankenstein with a technological and gender spin. The story follows Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) as a corporate cog who ventures to a far off location to check out something called the L-9 project. She’s going to decide if SynSect, the corporation she works for, should continue funding the project that created a synthetic human being called Morgan. What follows is a creation gone wrong tale in which Weathers soon realizes that she is in control of nothing, and Morgan (a 5 year old in the body of a teenager) can actually terminate Weathers (and anyone else) whenever she likes. Filled with tension, jump scares, and the kinds of ethical questions these movies usually ask, Morgan is one of the more interesting films to have come out in 2016 and the lion-share of this is because of how Taylor-Joy plays this rich character.
So strong is the cast in this movie about a man with 23 personalities that it’s easy to overlook just how good Anya Taylor-Joy is. In fact, James McAvoy is so strong in the role of Kevin Wendell Crumb, that it actually makes the power of Taylor-Joy’s nuanced performance that much greater. As Casey, a person who has been kidnapped to be killed by Kevin’s 24th personality, Taylor-Joy uses every bit of screen time she has trying to connect with any personality of Kevin’s that isn’t devious. This starts a dangerous game of manipulation that sees the clock ticking on Kevin’s ability to hold his mind and personalities together. What ensues is a deadly game of cat and mouse in which Taylor-Joy shines against the uber-strong performance of McAvoy’s many characters. Sold as a horror thriller, Split is one of those rare movies that is every bit as artistic as it is scary. Part of the M. Night Shyamalan comeback story, Taylor-Joys performance is every bit the equal to that of the brilliant McAvoy.
The New Mutants
One might wonder what could be special about a film that had 5 (yes, 5) release dates. Initially, this saga of 5 mutants in the X-Men universe who are net yet adults, had its release postponed for reshoots and then our present situation. Eventually, it came out in the fall of 2020 and was skewered fairly hard by just about everyone. However, there’s always a bright spot in movies like this and one of them is Anya Taylor-Joy’s depiction of Illyana Rasputin aka Magik. With powers of sorcery and teleportation, Taylor-Joy gives a layered performance in a movie that could be seen as little more than a superhero action flick. With her shimmering blonde locks, the actress straddles the fence between presenting evil but having a strong core of goodness. There are other standouts in this cast as well (Stranger Things Charlie Heaton being one of them), but what The New Mutants might ultimately be remembered for is showcasing this stand-out performance from Taylor-Joy before everyone discovered her in that Netflix TV show.
Taylor-Joy takes on a smaller role in this Rosamund Pike-led story about noted scientist Marie Curie (she was a pioneering physicist who explored the area of radioactivity). In the role of Irene Curie, Taylor-Joy shines again as Marie Curie’s daughter. Through the character of Irene we see what it is like to live in the large shadow cast by her mother. The role is of a supporting variety to be sure, but it clearly showed that Taylor-Joy can hold her her own against the likes of Pike, Sam Riley and Aneurin Barnard among others. Directed by Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis), Radioactive is the kind of movie that again drives home the point that to be truly great one must push hard against the forces that keep certain institutions in place. Anya Taylor-Joy is excellent as the character that sort of acts as a surrogate for us, as we watch Rosamund Pike blast her way through various hurdles of convention.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
This short lived fantasy series from Netflix featured the voice talents of such up and coming stars as Taylor-Joy, Taron Egerton and some older more notable talent like Mark Hamill and Helena Bonham Carter. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance follows three Gelfling who set in motion a plan to stop the evil Skeksis from gaining more power and destroying their world. Anya Taylor-Joy voices the role of Brea. She is a princess who is helping lead the fight along with Rian (Neil Sterenberg) and Deet (Beccy Henderson) to stop the evil Skeksis powers. This show had a very dedicated fan base and its reception, when it aired in August of 2019, was extremely positive. Sadly, Netflix cancelled the show before a second season could get underway. This is a really a shame too because Taylor-Joy and the rest of the parties involved all did very good work. One has to wonder if the expense of a fantasy show like this was just too much for the streamer to bare.
In the role of Gina Gray, Anya Taylor-Joy manages to steal scenes in just about every moment she has on screen. Peaky Blinders tells the story of a family of gangsters in England in the 1920s. The family in question is the Shelby’s, and they are lead by the stoic (and power hungry) Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy). Taylor-Joy’s character, Gina Gray, marries Michael Gray (Finn Cole) but she has her sights set on rising up within the Shelby Company. Everything Gina does is to further her position, which ultimately puts her on a collision course with everyone in her path. The role is as juicy as it gets and Taylor-Joy seems to be loving her characters ability to disrupt, and chew the scenery with whomever she may be playing against.
This is the film that really made it known that Anya Taylor-Joy was a star. Again playing the title character in a bookish, period piece, from a novel by the beloved Jane Austen, the actress is pitch perfect as Emma Woodhouse. She never met a relationship she didn’t want to effect in some way, Emma has her life and expectations upended when she finds herself in one. This film is sassy, tough, silly, and deftly directed by Autumn de Wilde. In what could’ve been a starchily executed talkie set in 1800s England, this comedy/drama ultimately finds itself stewing in the kind of romance we all wish would touch our lives. With Taylor-Joy as our protagonist, this just might be the most fun you’re going to have streaming a movie in your living room.
The third film in the Unbreakable, Split trilogy of films, Anya Taylor-Joy may be a supporting character but she’s no less important than the other major players. David Dunn (Bruce Willis) manages to track down Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy). However, Dunn sees his plans for retribution upended by Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) as the three men soon find themselves trapped in a mental hospital. Taylor-Joy ultimately enters the proceedings as the one person who might be able to help (and stop) the evil Kevin Wendell Crumb and his 24 personalities. As I mentioned, Glass is the coup de grace on the films in this “superhero” trilogy from M. Night Shyamalan. While the film itself might seem flawed (and muddied by an ending that doesn’t exactly work), what can’t be denied are the strengths of all the performances here. It is in fact a testament to Anya Taylor-Joy to be able to stand out, given the amount of screen time she has compared to Willis, Jackson, and McAvoy. Yes, Glass is not an Anya Taylor-Joy film, but it is ultimately her presence in the movie that effects the proceedings the most.
This interesting film from director Cory Finley (Bad Education), sees Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke as two former best friends becoming close after some time apart. What ensues is a Hitchcockian tale of two semi-schemers that unfolds in ways we do and don’t expect. Both actresses are superb with Taylor-Joy and Cooke having unbelievable chemistry in this tightly woven tale of two characters trying to be one step ahead of everyone around them. Taylor-Joy, as the upper crust Lily really does some fine work here. Her delivery is right on the money as we honestly don’t know who the bigger con artist is between the two stars. Thoroughbreds is one of those films that didn’t make a huge splash when it landed. It is an indy that was made for $5 million and it might not have even made that money back at the box office. That in no way diminishes this film or the work that Anya Taylor-Joy (and others) put forth here. Again, this film seems likely to be seen at some point as one of the many films that shaped and helped Taylor Joy’s career evolve.
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