A lot of people have been enjoying Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit,” which is a beautifully shot, at moments Dickensian story of a chess genius struggling with an addiction that began when she was fed pills at an orphanage. One of its central strengths is the lead performance by Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays Beth Harmon as ethereal yet resilient, lonely yet surrounded by supporters, lost yet driven.
Taylor-Joy has a number of notable credits, including “Peaky Blinders” and last year’s “Emma.” But I’d forgotten about her impressive leading work in a 2018 three-part “Masterpiece” period drama called “The Miniaturist.” Based on the 2014 novel by Jessie Burton, the story follows a young bride, Taylor-Joy’s Nella, in an arranged marriage in 17th-century Amsterdam. Her new husband, Alex Hassell’s Johannes, is rarely at home, and he seems indifferent toward her when he is. Nella winds up spending most of her time dealing with Johannes’s bullying, cold sister, Marin, played by Romola Garai as a twist on Mrs. Danvers from “Rebecca.”
Taylor-Joy brings a still intensity to her performance as Nella, who is far from her country roots, stuck in a claustrophobic home filled with secrets, and in the middle of a city that is alien to her. Like Beth in “The Queen’s Gambit,” Nella is riveting in her observant, poker-faced presence, always trying to mask her fear. Nella takes refuge caring for a dollhouse replica of the house, ordering custom-made artifacts for it from a miniaturist in town. Soon, though, the miniaturist, whose identity is unknown, sends objects that Nella hasn’t ordered, objects that predict events that will take place in the house. The tone of “The Miniaturist” is menacing, though it never reaches horror-movie intensity, as Nella becomes desperate to find out who’s making the items.
The drama loses some of its drive by the end, but it is consistently intriguing, and it is beautifully filmed throughout as a kind of homage to the Dutch painter Vermeer. And the acting is superb all round. For fans of Taylor-Joy, it’s worth a look, for sure. If you already pay for the Masterpiece Channel add-on to Amazon Prime Video, you can see it there or on Acorn TV. It’s available on the regular Amazon Prime, but you’ll have to pay.