The Many Literary Roles of Keira Knightley
‘Tis the season to pull out the holiday films, and we are sure you will be revisiting Keira Knightley’s love triangle in Love Actually. But don’t limit yourself to this holiday classic, Knightley gathers literary adaptations the way Santa collects cookies on Christmas Eve. For this reason, Keira, to us, you are perfect.
Pride and Prejudice
While we believe nobody can touch Jennifer Ehle’s performance as Elizabeth Bennet, Knightley holds her own as the spunky Austen heroine. Knightley’s Elizabeth manages to sassily exchange barbs with Mr. Dary while still showing a softer side during tender moments with her father. We do have a major quibble with the film; if you are going to change Austen’s work, you should add zombies, not cheesy post-marriage scenes.
We learned some major lessons from Knightley’s performance in the adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel. We primarily learned not to make her character, Cecilia, angry. When she discovers that her sister lied about the rape, we were chilled by her refusal to forgive her. More importantly, we learned that she looks stunning in green (we would love to wear that now iconic green dress). It also confirmed something we already knew: libraries are places that ignite passion.
Never Let Me Go
Knightley’s character, Ruth, is the one who begs for forgiveness in the adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel. When Knightley first appears on the screen, she is not exactly sympathetic. She is the epitome of the confident Queen Bee: she flaunts her relationship with Tommy in Kathy’s face, and she actively prevents them from getting together by lying about his interest in Kathy. When she finally tells the truth and attempts to find a way to save Kathy and Tommy, she is a humbled and broken woman that captures our sympathy. When Ruth finally completes, we cannot help but wish she found a way to escape the cruel medical system (a thought that would never have occurred to us during her mean girl stage).
While reviewers praise Knightley’s performance as Anna in this very stylized version of Tolstoy’s masterpiece, the gorgeous sets and gowns definitely distract from the plot. When we were watching the film, we were less focused on the tragic love triangle and more enthralled with the vivid colors of the scenes and choreography of the actors. We do admit that her separation from her son is one of the more poignant aspects of the film, proving that Knightley shines in roles other than someone’s love interest.
The Imitation Game
Knightley was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in the film adaptation of Alan Turing: the Engima by Andrew Hodges, and it is not hard to see why. She plays the puzzle-whiz, Joan Clarke, who joins the team to help break Nazi ciphers. Knightley plays Joan with the perfect blend of vulnerability and strength; she is willing to marry Alan Turing, knowing that he is gay, for the sake of the project and affection for him. When he claims to have never cared about her, she slaps him. In the end, Knightley is able to convey the strength of Joan’s love and forgiveness in their poignant reconciliation. Knightley’s ability to capture the complex emotions and relationship makes this the best performance of the bunch.
Want to catch Keira Knightley in a literary adaptation live? Take yourself to New York and catch her in the Broadway production of Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin. Spoiler alert: like so many of her book adaptations, it does not end well.
Sarah Fox is an editor, writer, writing consultant, and pop culture enthusiast. Besides regularly contributing to Quirk Books’ blog, she has published an edition of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. She lives in Washington D.C. with her husband and Pembroke Welsh Corgi. You can find her online at www.thebookishfox.com.