Keira Knightley burst onto the movie scene in 2002’s BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM, stealing our hearts and rocketing to stardom. It wasn’t long before she was everywhere we looked, proving her acting versatility in everything from blockbusters to romance films and the occasional thriller.
Knightley’s latest film, THE AFTERMATH, takes her back in time to post-war Germany in 1946, for a thrilling romantic drama co-starring Jason Clarke and Alexander Skarsgård. It’s hardly her first period drama — the genre has come to define her career and is where Knightley has often done her best work. Below, we look back at Knightley’s best roles in period films.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN
“Period film” probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Disney’s PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise, which is all about swashbuckling rogue pirates and their mythical adventures, but the movies are set in the 18th century, so they definitely count. In the series, Knightley plays the headstrong and rebellious Elizabeth Swann, who is just as tough — if not tougher — than the male pirates she gets mixed up with.
PRIDE & PREJUDICE
Joe Wright’s adaptation of the classic Jane Austen romance novel stars Knightley as another woman named Elizabeth. This time she’s Elizabeth Bennet, the lead protagonist and one of five sisters coping with courtship and coming of age in 19th century rural England. Knightley is compelling as Elizabeth, whose journey is both occasionally comedic and incredibly emotional.
Knightley reunited with director Joe Wright for another period adaptation: 2007’s ATONEMENT. Based on Ian McEwan’s novel, the film stars Knightley as a wealthy young woman named Cecilia who falls for her family’s housekeeper’s son, played by James McAvoy. Their torrid affair has unexpected consequences, to say the least.
One of Knightley’s lesser-seen (but no less fantastic) period roles is in THE DUCHESS, the 2008 drama based on the biography of Georgiana Cavendish, aka the Duchess of Devonshire. Knightley takes the lead in this riveting romantic drama that tracks the turbulent life of the 18th century aristocrat.
NEVER LET ME GO
Knightley jumped ahead in time a bit for this powerful sci-fi drama directed by Mark Romanek and based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s beloved novel. Set at a boarding school in 1978, the film takes place in a world where a medical breakthrough in 1952 has allowed people to live long past the age of 100. Knightley’s role as an insecure young woman was quite a departure for the actress in the absolute best way possible.
A DANGEROUS METHOD
Like the previous film on this list, A DANGEROUS METHOD was rather different from Knightley’s earlier, more accessible works. As she grew up, she began to evolve, taking on more challenging roles — like that of Sabina Spielrein, a patient treated by famous psychiatrist Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) in this psychological period drama based on a true story.
Knightley continued challenging herself — and viewers — with ANNA KARENINA. Based on the 19th century novel of the same name, Knightley’s third collaboration with director Joe Wright casts the actress as a Russian aristocrat whose affair with a military officer destroys her marriage and eventually her entire life.
THE IMITATION GAME
This Oscar®-winning historical drama about the life of brilliant computer scientist Alan Turing stars Knightley as his wife, Joan Clarke. Along with Turing, Joan decrypted Nazi codes for the British government during World War II. The film was nominated for eight Oscars® and won for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Knightley recently starred in the 2018 period drama COLETTE, based on the life of French author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. The actress plays the title role of Colette, whose husband urges her to ghostwrite his novels. When they become successful, Colette fights to earn respect and recognition in a male-dominated industry.
Keira Knightley goes back in time again when THE AFTERMATH opens on March 15 at AMC.