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Why Beth From The Queen's Gambit Looks So Familiar

As visually striking as an actual chessboard can be, chess itself is not a game that lends itself easily to a visual medium. That's largely because — unlike most games and sports — the actual playing of chess is largely done in the head of the player, and it's understandably difficult to convey the intellectual complexity of their each and every move visually. In spite of the challenge, chess has served as inspiration for a handful of classic "sports" movies over the years in film's like the egregiously underrated 1993 drama Searching for Bobby Fisher, and the enthralling 2012 documentary Brooklyn Castle. Heck, the great Ingmar Bergman even used the game last the central plot device for his legendary 1957 offering The Seventh Seal.

Chess is at the center of Netflix's new drama The Queen's Gambit as well, and the streaming giant is no doubt hoping the mini-series event (from Out of Sight and Logan scribe Scott Frank) will capture some the same magic as its predecessors. 

Based on Walter Tevis' 1983 novel of the same name, The Queen's Gambit follows the tale of young Beth Harmon, a brooding orphan who, as the story begins, is believed to be wholly unremarkable. That changes when Beth plays her first game of chess and shows uncanny ability to outwit and out maneuver her opponents. What follows is a harrowing journey into the thrilling world of competitive chess, that finds Beth consumed by a desire to become a Grandmaster herself. As that story unfolds, many savvy cinéastes are likely to find themselves pondering where they've previously seen the young woman portraying this Grandmaster in the making. 

Her name is Anya Taylor-Joy. And you've almost certainly seen her face on screen before. Here's why Beth from The Queen's Gambit looks so familiar. 

Anya Taylor-Joy lived deliciously in The Witch

For the record, Anya Taylor-Joy's face has been all over screens big and small in recent years, and is now officially set to front George Miller's hotly-anticipated Mad Max spinoff FuriosaAs many of you likely realize, Taylor-Joy has, however, shown great affinity for the indie set throughout, so it only makes sense to star there, particularly as the actor's breakout movie came in a recent no-budget classic.

That film was Robert Eggers' haunting 2015 masterpiece The Witch. Posited as "a New England folktale," Eggers' eerie gothic chiller unfolds in the harsh North Eastern wilderness circa the 1630s, and finds a fanatically devout Christian family breaking from the safety of their community to live closer to God on the fringes of a vast, ominous forest. Once there, the family's fates take a punishing turn for the worse, with their crops failing, their newborn son vanishing, and the family itself turning their suspicions on one another.

As the family tears itself apart, witchcraft is believed to be at the heart of their misfortunes, with the eldest daughter Thomasin becoming the likely suspect. Yes, that was a fresh-faced Anya Taylor-Joy portraying Thomasin in The Witch. Yes, the film was the big screen debut for the then 19-year-old actor. And yes, Taylor-Joy delivered a show-stopping, near-iconic turn as the tortured young woman (particularly in the film's utterly shocking final moments).

Filmmakers from every walk of life made note of Taylor-Joy's towering screen presence, and the actor has indeed been booking gigs left and right since The Witch was released. That includes a new gig with Robert Eggers, by the way, as the pair have recently re-united for Eggers' star-studded viking tale The Northmen. Here's hoping they bottle lightning for a second time.

Anya Taylor-Joy battled the beast in Shyamalan's Split

The Witch is the film that launched Anya Taylor-Joy's career, but it may not be the first time many movie lovers saw her face on screen — beause even as revered as The Witch has become in the years since its release, the film was largely overlooked in 2015, save for an intensely devoted of genre lovers who immediately hailed it as a new horror masterwork. However, it's safe to assume that the twist-loving director of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable helmer was among them, because M. Night Shyamalan was quick to bring Taylor-Joy on board for his 2017 thriller Split

Prior to Split hitting theaters, Shyamalan had fallen well out of favor, after a string of cinematic disasters like Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008), The Last Airbender (2010), and After Earth (2013). Shyamalan had, however, begun to find his groove again with 2015's Blumhouse-produced found-footage shocker The Visit, and he reteamed with Blumhouse for Split, which followed the horrifying tale of three teen girls kidnapped by a man tragically suffering from multiple personality disorder (James McAvoy). Held captive by the troubled man, a creepily captivating game of cat and mouse follows, as Taylor-Joy's Casey (no stranger to trauma herself) tries to wade through the multiple personas and find one that might help her escape.

Make no mistake, James McAvoy's shape-shifting turn is the star of the show here, but there's little question Taylor-Joy's Casey is the emotional anchor of Split. There's even less question the star made the most of the moment, and helped make Split one of the best films of Shyamalan's topsy-turvy career.

Anya Taylor-Joy was among the next wave of X-Men in The New Mutants

Riding high on the successes of The Witch and Split, Anya Taylor-Joy was quickly being eyed for roles in much bigger projects running through Hollywood studios. In the early days of 2017, she signed on for a key role among the young cast of a new X-Men adjacent movie — one that was being helmed by a hot young director, to boot. 

Josh Boone (The Fault In Our Stars) is the director in question. And unfortunately, the X-Men adjacent movie was none other than 20th Century Studio's The New Mutants.

If you've been following The New Mutant's struggles in recent years, you know things didn't go according to plan, for what was intended to be Taylor-Joy's first legit blockbuster. If not, know that The New Mutants actually went before cameras in 2017, and even debuted its first trailer later that fall boasting an April 2018 release date. The New Mutants didn't make that April 2018 release date. Nor did it make the next few dates which Fox bumped it to, over the next two years, as tales of behind-the-scenes strife and extensive reshoots dominating the headlines. 

As it was, Fox (who was also being absorbed by Disney at the time) almost seemed eager to bury The New Mutants altogether. They finally relented, releasing the flick in 2020 amid a worldwide pandemic that all but ensured it wouldn't set the box office ablaze, even with little competition. In the end, The New Mutants is far from perfect, but it's nowhere near as bad as its troubled history might lead you to believe. And, of course, it features yet another brilliant performance from Anya Taylor-Joy, playing the comic book character of Illyana Rasputin, AKA Magik.

Anya Taylor-Joy enlisted an old friend for a brutal crime in Thoroughbreds

Needless to say, Anya Taylor-Joy's first big studio film experience wasn't the greatest. That experience likely led her back to the indie realm, with the rising star following The New Mutants with a decidedly different tale of teenage rebellion — one sprung from the mind of then first-time writer-director Cory Finley, who's currently earning raves for his work on HBO's Emmy-winning dramedy Bad Education (featuring the Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman). Finley's skill behind the camera was well on display in this debut feature as well, with the director borrowing heavily from pitch-black teen romps in the vain of 1989's Heathers, and wickedly twisted crime flicks like 1998's Wild Things, to craft his own crackerjack tale of good teens gone very bad.

Titled Thoroughbreds, that tale found a pair of upper-class femmes (Taylor-Joy and Ready Player One's Olivia Cooke) re-connecting, years after their friendship ran its course, and eventually plotting a perfect crime that will free one of them from the overbearing bondage of her evil stepfather (Paul Sparks). Of the plot, well, it's an unsettling bit of business, that essentially involves removing the stepfather from the picture ... by any means necessary. It's also complicated greatly by the fact that one of the women is incapable of feeling emotions, while the other feels everything too strongly.

Anya Taylor-Joy portrays the latter, delivering a pierced-heart-on-her-sleeve sort of performance that almost eclipses the equally impressive work of her cast mates (including Anton Yelchin in one of his final screen appearances). En route, she helps elevate Thoroughbreds into an exacting, subversive chamber drama with more on its mind than mere teenage kicks, which makes it all the more disturbing to watch.