Welcome to Filmographies, a column for completists. Every edition brings a working actor’s resumé into focus as we learn about what makes them so compelling. In this entry, we spotlight the filmography of Anya Taylor-Joy.
Elegantly elfin and daringly tenacious, Anya Taylor-Joy casts a startlingly unique silhouette even amid the abundance of talent in young Hollywood today. Her remarkable, eclectic body of work has long caught our eye, making all initial assessments of her rising star potential was always expectantly hopeful.
She hasn’t disappointed her fans since. In fact, the impressive aplomb she has long honed onscreen has increasingly become a vital component of her celebrity persona. The perpetual conversation surrounding her in the cultural zeitgeist — particularly in the realm of fashion and style — traces back to a wealth of feminine representation that is both timeless and timely.
Hence, the Filmographies tradition beckons this writer to take the plunge into Taylor-Joy’s delightful movie and television endeavors, especially considering the caliber of auteur collaborations that fill her resumé. Read on for my breakdown of her meteoric evolution from ethereal ingenue to powerhouse performer.
The Witch (2015)
“Big breakout movie” does not always translate to “artistically significant cinematic masterpiece,” but Robert Eggers’ The Witch has evolved into a hallmark in the horror genre. Anya Taylor-Joy headlines this spooky New England folktale that follows the radical coming-of-age of a teen girl in the 1630s.
Right as Taylor-Joy’s protagonist, Thomasin, develops into womanhood, she crosses paths with seductive evil forces that threaten to tear her family apart. Her insatiable craving for freedom is far from alien to a contemporary audience. Yet, the repressive silence borne from Puritanical thought constantly stifles the youthful rebellion she so deeply desires.
As such, Taylor-Joy teeters across a fragile equilibrium of dramatic precision. Her intimations of stubbornness, mistrust, and guilt are intensely insightful.
The overtly intentional exactness of Eggers’ storytelling does not distract from the innate magnetism that Taylor-Joy exudes either. Due to the actress’ committed embodiment of heartwrenching loss and wanton empowerment, the movie’s ghastly imagery impeccably transforms into an eerily timeless social critique.
On the page, Morgan is a stock-standard, serviceable piece of artificial-intelligence-themed science-fiction. The movie centers on a titular nanotech-infused synthetic creature. Upon displaying bouts of uncontrollable violence — to the point of potential murderousness — she must then be evaluated by the shadowy corporation that funded her very birth. Cue self-fulfilling prophecy.
The modest flick wins us over with a thoroughly engaging cast, including Anya Taylor-Joy as Morgan herself. At the outset, the otherworldly quality of her physical presence alone lends ample credence to the character.
Deliberate physicality is in and of itself crucial to bringing Morgan to life too. Taylor-Joy imperceptibly shifts from deadened stare to childlike wonderment with a fluidity that is disquieting to witness. This subtlety extends to her tangible interactions with others, whether she is gentle in countenance or tapping into her inner feral child.
Anya Taylor-Joy’s genuine, sympathetic depiction of the love interest in Barry is surprisingly impactful. In this retelling of Barack Obama’s life at Columbia University, she plays Charlotte — an amalgamation of several real-life women that the former president had dated during his college years.
This perspicuously modern young woman definitively pivots Taylor-Joy’s oeuvre towards a more conventional route. Notwithstanding, Charlotte’s staunchly-held empathetic values coupled with her warmth and polish allow the actress to revel in a new kind of feminine strength. Taylor-Joy constructs Charlotte as a quietly powerful individual without unnecessarily redirecting the film’s focus away from its primary arc.
One might assume that the Marie Curie picture Radioactive (2019) would give the actress a meatier role as she fills the shoes of legendary scientist Irène Joliot-Curie. Instead, Taylor-Joy dabbles in more range and individuality in Barry, making it our biographical drama of choice in her filmography.
Split and its 2019 follow-up Glass herald the first recurring character appearance in Anya Taylor-Joy’s slate. Additionally, her rousing turn as the shrewd emotionally wounded Casey Cooke helps compensate for at least some of the storytelling shortcomings in M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable sequels.
A good portion of Split feels incredibly dated. Young Casey faces off against a foe with 23 personalities, which does little more than render dissociative identity disorder a static plot device. The film further pairs this plot point with a throughline of abuse inflicted upon its female protagonist.
Taylor-Joy carries this grief and trauma with immense stride. Casey is socially-stunted. Yet her level-headed approach to problem-solving ensures she is a worthy match for even a villain with superhuman abilities. Taylor-Joy adds palpable complexity to the straightforwardness of her role.
Glass subsequently attempts to remedy its predecessor’s clumsy stereotypes through Casey. However, Taylor-Joy is delegated to a supporting cast member in this one, which is a damn shame. Her advocacy for other broken and misunderstood denizens — those similar to her erstwhile adversary — deserves more exploration.
Marrowbone and Here Are the Young Men (2020) entrust Anya Taylor-Joy with more romantic interest parts. This time, she occupies comparably heightened narrative scapes, notably imbuing potentially static characters with a sense of alluring freedom.
Regrettably, Here Are the Young Men confuses the golden rule of writing for lack of cohesion. By the time its 90-something minute runtime is up, the audience is no closer to understanding the kids at its core, including Taylor-Joy’s sarcastic yet sensible Jen.
Rather, she is much more effective in Marrowbone. Taylor-Joy plays the easygoing Allie, whose effervescent benevolence starkly contrasts the menacing, somber tone of the film. She proves masterful at substantively personifying essential accessible feelings throughout the movie’s slow-burn suspense, engaging us on a visceral level that complements the story’s heavy emotional material.
The black comedy Thoroughbreds is the complete opposite of a feel-good buddy movie. Anya Taylor-Joy tag teams with Olivia Cooke to portray absurdly moneyed teenagers who devise a murderous plot to defeat an evil stepdad.
Viewers are quickly acquainted with the lavish lifestyle led by Taylor-Joy’s supposedly sweet, proper, and emotionally sensitive Lily. The girl has never wanted for anything — smarts, friends, or talents — except, perhaps, parental affection.
Unlike her brusque, antisocial friend Amanda (Cooke), Lily’s moralistic tenets and charm school etiquette let her hide in plain sight. In reality, a skulking specter of self-entitlement clouds her judgment and informs her every move.
Taylor-Joy feigns decency in a way that concurrently understands Lily’s effort to assert herself. She steadily implores us to pity the character. To the point where the reveal of her hollowness feels like the utmost betrayal. Lily’s fragility isn’t synonymous with maturity or virtue, but Taylor-Joy potently muddies the waters.
The Miniaturist (2017)
The Miniaturist marks Anya Taylor-Joy’s debut as a topliner in longer-form media. The actress dons the role of the eager, fresh-faced Nella Brandt, whose abrupt arranged marriage to a Dutch merchant is strained under the weight of murky family secrets.
Dainty, pink-cheeked, and charmingly wholesome, Nella immediately seems misplaced in the haunting, austere halls of her husband’s home. The more she entangles with the rest of his staunchly protective household — including a woefully draconian sister — the worldlier she must rapidly become.
Although tasked with an overt, more traditional arc, Taylor-Joy astounds with every pointed stare, plucky verbal spar, and heartfelt admonishment. She is unyieldingly passionate and fearless, remaining steadfast even as stress mounts throughout the series. Ultimately, this resilience is crucial to the narrative’s quest for truth and integrity.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (2019)
Anya Taylor-Joy’s voice-acting endeavors are frankly still gradually taking shape. Playmobil: The Movie (2019) is outwardly baffling for a performer of her ability. Despite the enthusiasm of Taylor-Joy’s vocal work, the paper-thin, simplistic nature of the screenplay does her no favors.
Thankfully, Taylor-Joy exhibits an expert command of the textural depths of her voice in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. The fantasy series serves as a prequel to Jim Henson’s animatronic cult classic of the same name. In a perfect throwback to its 1980s precursor, the 10-chapter Netflix series utilizes practical puppetry techniques to spin a classic tale of selfless good versus tyrannical evil.
Taylor-Joy plays Princess Brea, one of the show’s heroes. Characterized by her logical mind, biting wit, and eccentric individuality, her bravery swiftly blossoms when her ceaseless curiosity ushers her away from sheltered royal life into the throes of perilous adventure.
Taylor-Joy relishes in all of Brea’s facets, from her excitably bookish zeal to a more mischievous streak. Her engaging, amiable timbre pairs extraordinarily well with the captivating physical performance shaped by veteran puppeteer Alice Dinnean.
Taylor-Joy beautifully supplements the impeccable artistry of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Their combined efforts seamlessly meshing together to produce an altogether original heroine. Sadly, there won’t be a Season 2. Regardless, the analog uniqueness of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance solidifies its status as one of the actress’ most memorable ventures to date.
Just a couple of years in, the 2020s have already actualized the leading lady buzz that has trailed Anya Taylor-Joy since The Witch. First came the whimsical Emma, in which the actress joins a procession of performers to portray the iconic titular Jane Austen heroine.
Much of Taylor-Joy’s work requires pronounced maturity on her part, but the annoying, self-absorbed Emma Woodhouse begs to differ. Childish insolence and snooty pride are rarely so endearing. The heady chemistry percolating between Emma and her critical confidante Mr. Knightley is as beguiling as it is irritating.
Taylor-Joy implements a distinctive knack for understated coyness, which is key to depicting Emma’s frustrating attributes with depth and compassion. The character’s self-satisfied, boastful pride is often naturalistically traded for a more earnest emotional inflection. Be it indignity, outrage, or relief, Taylor-Joy artfully exemplifies Emma’s true self in a searingly relatable way.
The Queen’s Gambit (2020)
By now, Anya Taylor-Joy is no stranger to a plethora of fascinating fictional women. That said, none of them really come close to the resonant, anguished tenacity of chess prodigy Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit. The highly-decorated, record-breaking miniseries is not simply a hair-raising portrayal of cutthroat — and often sexist — pro-level competitions. It also grimly depicts the terrifyingly isolating struggle of substance abuse.
As Beth, Taylor-Joy regularly finds herself at Ground Zero of colossal personal turmoil. Various instances of childhood trauma have left the character fearful of death and abandonment. Yet she does not often permit herself to confront those sorrows. Consumed by drugs, alcohol, and the relentless desire to beat every opponent on the chessboard, Beth resists affection to the point of total, utter deflection.
Taylor-Joy epitomizes these qualities so honestly and pragmatically that audiences cannot help but connect to Beth on an intuitive level. She explicitly zeroes in on the profundity of Beth’s personality, drawing clear, authentic distinctions between her moments of naivete, aspiration, and willful ignorance. Taylor-Joy’s respect and appreciation for Beth’s many seemingly contradictory facets result in a full-bodied performance that is nothing short of showstopping.
Last Night in Soho (2021)
Anya Taylor-Joy returns to her horror roots in Edgar Wright’s consciously mystifying Swinging Sixties menagerie Last Night in Soho. She plays an aspiring singer named Sandie, whose fashion-forward confidence inadvertently becomes an uncanny inspiration for Eloise, the film’s doe-eyed protagonist.
On the one hand, Sandie is undeniably alluring and sublime. Her resolve is positively infectious, and like Eloise, she inexplicably enthralls viewers with her beauty and charisma. We know very little about this blonde bombshell but instantly invest in her success.
However, the movie illuminates the demons swirling beneath Sandie’s sophistication. Contrary to her put-together picture of femininity and grace, she is subject to seedy misogynistic violence that leaves her at wit’s end. Here, Taylor-Joy is an unbridled vision of depression and desperation — coarse, hopeless, and resentful.
Taylor-Joy fits right into exquisite period aesthetics and gritty genre homages akin to Last Night in Soho. Nonetheless, her work in the movie feels purposely streamlined to fit the archetypal conditions of Wright’s pastiche filmmaking exercise. Knowing how richly multifaceted Taylor-Joy’s work can otherwise be, I cannot help but wish Sandie was the same.
Make no mistake, Anya Taylor-Joy has unequivocally attained mainstream salience. After netting prestigious accolades such as a Golden Globe, a SAG Award, and a Critics’ Choice Award for her sensational achievements in The Queen’s Gambit, her career in popular media is destined to flourish.
Ironically, some of Taylor-Joy’s more tepid work traverses a corresponding plane, too. Taylor-Joy is entirely entertaining in both the fifth season of Peaky Blinders (2019) and the superhero flick The New Mutants (2020). Still, neither of them provides her with solid arcs to probe within holistically interesting storylines.
Could there be more Peaky Blinders on Taylor-Joy’s horizon, though? In light of the Season 5 ending, she may prove instrumental to the show’s sixth and final season. At the time of writing, there is no confirmed casting announcement, but there is a tentative 2022 release date.
Without a doubt, there is no shortage of film work for Taylor-Joy at any rate. The Northman (2022) — her long-awaited Eggers re-team — tops my personal list of her most highly-anticipated undertakings.
And there are also the untitled David O. Russell project (2022), the untitled Super Mario animated project (2022), Mark Mylod’s The Menu (2022), the Mad Max: Fury Road prequel Furiosa (2024), and an as-yet undated reunion with Scott Frank in Laughter in the Dark.
The advent of Anya Taylor-Joy was and is epochal. Armed with a larger-than-life magnetism that can abruptly pounce or languidly lure us in like a siren song, her craft is a privilege to behold.