- Simon Garner
Actor of the Week: Keira Knightley
This week, our Actor of the Week winner is a two-time Oscar nominee and has worked with some of the best names in Hollywood - the talented Keira Knightley. From Star Wars to a Jane Austen adaptation, she has certainly put herself out there in plenty of genres.
Knightley starred in a fair few TV series and movies different types until she got a big break when she was cast in the first prequel in the Star Wars franchise - The Phantom Menace, which was also the first time I saw her. This was a funny role, because she was in a lot of the key scenes and always at the forefront, but she sort of went unnoticed at the same time. The reason for this is because she plays Sabe, who was handmaiden to Queen Amidala, but also doubled up as her decoy, hence going unnoticed. She was cast, in part, due to her resemblance of former Actor of the Week winner Natalie Portman, who plays Queen Amidala/Padme. Apparently, when both were fully made up on set, Knightley’s own mother struggled to identify who was who at times!
After Star Wars, she proceeded to star in a couple more TV series, before starring in the horror film The Hole. Based on the Guy Burt book After the Hole, The Hole is about a group of students who party in an underground shelter and find themselves trapped inside when they come to leave. This was Knightley’s first major role in a film, and she did well with it. While the film wasn’t a landslide in terms of positivities, it was not a disaster either, and makes for an entertaining watch.
Another film that was popular, perhaps far more so in the UK, was Bend It Like Beckham, in which Knightley starred as Juliette Paxton, best friend to lead character Jess Kaur Bhamra. Bend It Like Beckham tells the story of a girl rebelling against the strict religious ways of her Sikh family by joining a football team. Again, like The Hole, this film didn’t blow any minds, but it did endear itself to many, and also carried poignant messages, messages that are still relevant now.
2003 saw two roles that really catapulted her to international familiarity, and these were that of Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and Juliet in Love Actually. Pirates of the Caribbean has become a massive franchise, and Knightley was a big part of that. The Curse of the Black Pearl tells the story of a group of pirates who are searching for the final piece of cursed treasure so they can return it from where they stole it and relieve themselves from the clutches of said curse, the consequences of which leaves them ‘undead’. They look normal to the eye, but in the moonlight they are skeletal and horrific. The Curse of the Black Pearl, in my opinion, remains the best film in the series. I remember the impact of seeing the zombified figures for the first time and the storyline is the franchise’s strongest. Knightley’s role was pivotal because she was taken hostage by the undead pirates and was then discovered to possess the final medallion that they require to lift the curse. She plays the damsel in distress part very well, but it’s really a facade for the fact that she is badass, resourceful, and can more than hold her own.
Knightley’s two Oscar nominations came some years apart. Her first nomination was for 2006’s Pride and Prejudice, an adaptation of the Jane Austen novel of the same name, as mentioned earlier. Nine years later, she received her second nomination for her role in 2015’s The Imitation Game, where she starred alongside another former AotW winner in Benedict Cumberbatch.
As you can see from the above, she has had quite a diverse set of roles and deserves every recognition she gets. Whilst she’s missed out on the elusive Oscar twice to date, she’s the kind of actor that gives you the feeling that a win is only a matter of time. I’m sure she’ll keep cracking on and I look forward to seeing her efforts along the way. Cheers Keira!