Posts Tagged ‘Isla Johnston’

Anna Taylor-Joy

“THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT”  My rating: A- 

Anya Taylor-Joy has been an indie “it” girl ever since 2015’s “The Witch”; she cemented her reputation with this year’s “Emma” (and took a half-step back with the widely reviled “New Mutants”).

But true blow-out mainstream stardom now has arrived for her in the form of “The Queen’s Gambit,” a personality study masquerading as a sports movie (well, sort of…the sport here is chess).

Scott Frank’s seven-part Netflix series (he directed and wrote or co-wrote every episode) allows the 24-year-old Taylor-Joy to exploit everything in her acting arsenal, from her eerie looks (those HUGE eyes, those rosebud lips) to explosive physicality to a sort of studied inscrutability that is her character’s dominant trait.

Along the way the series (adapted from Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel) tackles issues of feminism and paternalism, Cold War tension, substance abuse and Sixties hedonism.  Oh, yeah…and  you’ll learn an awful lot about the world of competitive chess.

The first chapter introduces us to young Beth Harrison (played as a child by Isla Johnston) in the wake of the suicidal car wreck that killed her single mother (Chloe Pirrie, who keeps popping up in flashbacks scattered throughout the episodes).

Little Beth is consigned to a church-sponsored orphanage where she’s fed a steady diet of religion and tranquilizers (the beginning of lifelong addiction issues), is befriended by the older malcontent Jolene (Moses Ingram) and finds an unlikely mentor in the school’s reclusive janitor (the great Bill Camp) who in the dingy cellar introduces her to the game of chess — at which she excels. 

“The Queen’s Gambit” follows two distinct but frequently intersecting paths.

The first is Beth’s rise to the highest ranks of international chess, starting with state competitions (she knows the game, but is indifferent to the attendant proprieties), through state championships and on to the nationals. Frank and team pull out the stops in recreating the milieu of chess fantacism.  By the time you’re finished you’ll have been given a crash course.

The second plot is a more personal one. It’s about Beth as damaged goods, a loner who gets by on ego, skill, booze and pills;  a teen who seems unable to establish the  usual connections and friendships.

Beth is adopted by a couple whose motives for becoming parents are mixed at best;  the father almost immediately bails, leave Beth to deal with his depressed, alcoholic and delightfully loquacious wife, Alma (Marielle Heller). You can say this for Alma…despite the constant drinking she’s knows how to monetize Beth’s chess skills; before long the teenager is popping up on the covers of magazines. (more…)

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