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Knightley, Keira (1985-)


Main image of Knightley, Keira (1985-)

Keira Knightley has enjoyed one of the most meteoric rises to fame in recent memory, perhaps suggesting a dearth of beautiful, intelligent young actresses with sufficient range to move between costume drama and swashbuckling action thrillers. Born on the 26th March 1985, her parents are the acclaimed playwright Sharman MacDonald and the actor Will Knightley, who brought her up in a thespian environment. She made her proper acting debut at the age of nine, playing Sophie Ward's daughter in A Village Affair (ITV, 1994), but showed unusually artistic tastes in her early roles, playing the young Gabrielle Anwar in Innocent Lies (UK/France, d. Patrick DeWolf, 1995) and the youthful Emily Mortimer in the Rosamund Pilcher adaptation Coming Home (ITV, 1998). Her first significant film appearance came in Star Wars Episode 1- The Phantom Menace (US, 1999), in which she played Sabe, the 'decoy' for Natalie Portman's Queen Amidala.

2001 proved to be an important year, as she appeared both in the Disney 'revision' of the Robin Hood myth Princess of Thieves (Sky, 2001) as Gwyn, Robin's daughter-cum-swashbuckler, and, more conventionally, as one of a group of thrill-seeking students in the horror film The Hole (d. Nick Hamm, 2001). Another acclaimed role came as the tomboyish football player Jules in Bend It Like Beckham (d. Gurinder Chadha, 2002), indicating her willingness to play against her looks. Her versatility was also demonstrated by her performances in the drugs film Pure (d. Gillies MacKinnon, 2002) and, staking her claim to be the next Julie Christie, as Lara in the television version of Dr Zhivago (ITV, 2002), all before her eighteenth birthday.

Her debut Hollywood film, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (US, 2003), allowed her to look fetching while battling undead pirates, but she remained subsidiary to Johnny Depp's grandstanding hamming - though not enough to prevent her being cast in the two sequels (US, 2006/7). A brief cameo in Love Actually (UK/US, d. Richard Curtis, 2003) gave her little to do other than smile and look adorable, but a feisty performance as Guinevere in the revisionist King Arthur (US/Ireland, 2004) reinforced her credentials as a contemporary action heroine.

2005 proved to be a particularly interesting year for Knightley, as she was the star of two high-profile films and the co-star of a third. The two set in America, Domino (France/US, d. Tony Scott, 2005) and The Jacket (US/Germany, d. John Maybury, 2005) both suffered from narrative incoherence and directorial extravagance, as well as Knightley's palpable discomfort as, respectively, a bounty hunter and an alcoholic waitress. Perhaps ironically, she was on far firmer ground in a more conventional role than usual, as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (France/UK, d. Joe Wright, 2005), for which she was both critically acclaimed and Oscar-nominated.

Alexander Larman

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