2020 proved to be quite the year for Anya-Taylor Joy. Known for acting in offbeat horror and mystery films, she kicked off the year with her lead role in Emma, a loyal adaptation of the classic novel of the same name. The film drew critical praise with most of the reviews admiring Taylor-Joy’s abilities as a lead.
If Emma wasn’t enough, she stunned audiences with the Netflix miniseries The Queen’s Gambit which has proved to be one of the streaming service’s biggest successes. She’s featured as Elizabeth ‘Beth’ Harmon, a talented chess prodigy whose path to becoming a Chess Grandmaster is interrupted by her toxic drug addiction. Both characters are iconic in their own right and unleash her acting potential to the fullest. What’s also remarkable is how the two characters have several layers to them, sharing a common charm and the actress’s steel-eyed gaze.
10 Beth: Making Best Use Of Silences
Anya Taylor-Joy is an actress who can be emotive enough even with blank stares and silent gestures. Carrying on the silent aura from her characters in previous films like Thoroughbreds, she delivers a masterclass in ‘underacting’ as Beth in the Netflix miniseries.
Even in the show’s most dramatic moments, Beth doesn’t deliver overdramatic monologues (that viewers are otherwise used to in several recent miniseries) and makes good use of limited dialogue to show her character’s flawless skills at chess. Even without much over-the-top dialogue, the actress can still channel’s Beth’s determination.
9 Emma: Charming Deadpan Humor
The adaptations of Jane Austen’s classic comedy usually fall prey to flashy tropes but the 2020 film version presents a subtler, more deadpan take on the story. Anya Taylor-Joy seems like the perfect actress to evoke this sense of charm and wit, with a period accent that’s not overdone at all.
Then, of course, her trademark stares and underplayed comedic timing work in her favor yet again, making her performance look effortless.
8 Beth: The Show’s Unconventional Premise
Apart from Taylor-Joy’s stunning acting, a factor that makes her role stand out is also the freshness of the show itself. Many sports involving physical activity have got their fair share of representation on TV and film. However, there are just a handful of screen stories on chess, especially those with a strong female lead.
The Queen’s Gambit incited a global interest in the classic board game, even for the viewers who didn’t know the game. Such is the show’s impact with just seven episodes.
7 Emma: Chemistry With The Other Characters
Emma, as its title suggests, focuses on the idlings of its titular character but it also benefits greatly from its talented ensemble cast. Just like any Austen novel, the story features a diverse set of characters from the upper crust of British high society.
Anya Taylor-Joy’s chemistry with her co-stars makes Emma’s musings and romances all the more worthwhile, be it her deadpan interactions with her father (Bill Nighy) or her sarcastic digs at her close friend George Knightley (Johnny Flynn).
6 Beth: Makes Best Use Of The Lead Role
Contrasting with Emma, The Queen’s Gambit entirely revolves around its protagonist. The ensemble in this case too is talented, but the characters are solely focused on helping Beth in winning her matches by all means possible. With all attention on her character, Anya Taylor-Joy brings out the most controlled performance of her career so far.
She shows great dramatic range whether it be the scenes of her playing chess or her dealing with alcoholism and addiction. A great script and tight direction further bring out the highs and lows of her multi-dimensional character.
5 Emma: Striking A Balance Between Naivety And Boldness
If Beth had several layers to her character, the role of Emma required Anya Taylor-Joy to bring out several moods. She brims with confidence and self-assertion with her straightforward nature. Scenes like Emma rejecting Mr. Elton’s proposal bear testimony to this.
At the same time, her character’s young age brings out a slight immaturity and naivety too that Taylor-Joy brings out perfectly. Examples can be moments like her envy towards Jane Fairfax for her social popularity and piano-playing skills.
4 Beth: Convincing Portrayal Of A Chess Player
Anya Taylor-Joy might not be a Chess Grandmaster but she sure does know how to act like one. As Beth, she made great use of the silent yet dramatic chess-playing scenes. Viewers can see the variations in her expressions as the stakes of the game rise.
The obvious reason behind her convincing performance is her actual knowledge of chess. As she said in an NPR interview, “I had to have a good theoretical understanding of chess because I didn’t feel confident or arrogant enough to show up on set and pretend like I knew what I was talking about.”
3 Emma: Perfectly Adjusts With The Period Setting
Set in 19th-century England, this is the second major period role for Anya Taylor-Joy after her breakout debut role in The Witch. She perfectly soaks in the pre-Victorian setting which of course, is perfected further with Autumn de Wilde’s artful direction and the vibrant costumes by Alexandra Byrne, who’s a veteran in such films.
Apart from proving her prowess as a lead, Taylor-Joy also showcases her ability in taking charge in period films. She can easily be compared with similar contemporaries like Saoirse Ronan.
2 Beth: Justice To The Source Material
Walter Tevis’ original American novel isn’t an easy book to adapt as it delves deep into the protagonist’s internal struggles as well as the technicalities of chess. But under showrunner Scott Frank, The Queen’s Gambit proved to be quite a binge-worthy experience, even becoming Netflix’s most-watched miniseries.
The character of Beth Harmon is described as a highly-focused and ambitious woman, hardened by her tough childhood and addiction issues. Safe to say, Anya Taylor-Joy seems to have played this character as perfectly as possible.
1 Emma: (Yet Again) Justice To The Source Material
It’s difficult to make Jane Austen’s satire relevant in today’s times when Emma has been adapted several times already. It is interesting to note that despite the numerous adaptations, the most popular one was Clueless, a modern-day rendition of the novel.
Despite the past versions, Autumn de Wilde’s take acted as quite an original as well as a faithful adaptation of its source material. The leisurely pace and the dry wit, coupled with Taylor-Joy’s lead acting helped in making Emma quite a remarkable film in its own right.
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