At only 34, Keira Knightley has become a confident and reliable staple of modern cinema. Since her breakout performance as Elizabeth Swann in “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” she has commanded the attention of critics and audiences alike. Over the years, she’s found success on a number of projects, eventually being nominated for two Academy Awards for 2005’s “Pride and Prejudice” and 2014’s “The Imitation Game,” respectively. With so many memorable roles, it’s hard to single out one as a favorite. But ultimately it comes down to your preference: modern vs. period roles.
Although Knightley has received more acclaim for her performances in costume dramas, she’s done more than her fair share of films set in the present day. In fact, the role that first launched her to prominence was that of a tomboyish footballer in “Bend It Like Beckham.”
She was later featured in the ensemble schmaltz-fest “Love Actually,” where her poster-board, quasi-romance with Andrew Lincoln was the stuff memes are made of. Fans may also enjoy her forays into genre film — the melancholy “Never Let Me Go” and action-packed “Domino” are particular standouts. She’s even done a few dark comedies, with “Laggies” and “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” both of which are surprisingly underrated.
Over the years, Keira Knightley has made costume dramas her bread and butter. She specializes in playing progressive women who feel slightly out of place in the past. Her feminist leanings and emotional intelligence seemingly make her a misfit for historical femininity. This disconnect is what makes her performances of women who broke the mold so engaging. As Elizabeth Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice,” Knightley does justice to the beloved literary heroine who didn’t believe that marriage by any means necessary was the right approach.
And that’s just the beginning. Knightley seems drawn to historical roles that show women taking ownership of their personhood, sexuality, and autonomy. “The Duchess,” “Anna Karenina,” “Colette,” “A Dangerous Method,” “The Imitation Game,” even “Pirates of the Caribbean,” there’s a definite pattern. Regardless of the role, she brings a delightfully obstinate modernity to each performance that enthralls.