Over the past decade, there has been an unending discussion taking place in Hollywood about the Complex Female Character (second only to the Strong Female Character): who she is, how she behaves, why she is so important. Women, we are reminded, have been so poorly represented throughout the history of film that we need a corrective, one that will balance out decades of institutional misogyny and the male gaze.
It has been a persistent conversation, and mostly an annoying one, partly because no one ever clamours for strong or complex male characters and partly because the superficiality of the trope obfuscates genuinely thoughtful and exciting cinematic explorations of gender and femininity.
It is in these explorations – infinitely richer and less soundbite-y – that Anya Taylor-Joy, star of Robert Eggers’ brutal new Viking epic The Northman, specialises.
Having only been in the business for a handful of years, her career is already populated with the kind of carefully considered, enigmatic roles that the Complex Female Character can only dream of. Her characters are strange, wild creatures even when they are buttoned-up and prim: sleek hair and innocent eyes a disguise for something more defiant, wanting, and distinctly unfeminine.
As the sorceress Olga in The Northman, Taylor-Joy comes full circle with the very first film of her career: Eggers’ unsettling and subversively emancipatory folk horror The Witch.
Set in the early days of America’s colonisation, The Witch follows a Puritan family trying to eke out a pitiful existence in New England, whose bonds to their faith and each other are pushed to breaking point by a lurking evil in the nearby woods. As Thomasin, the family’s quiet and obedient daughter, Taylor-Joy is a powder-keg of ripening womanhood and suppressed original sin.