Keira Knightley and Zola


I’ll defend Keira Knightley. Even when she’s awful. That is, when she stars in awful movies. She reminds me of a female version of Tom Cruise who collects admirers and revilers in equal doses. She exudes elegance–and that voice of hers–executing the derisive, verbal fencing in period pieces with polysyllabic words sliding past full lips with grace as in Pride and Prejudice or The Duchess. Here’s a clip from the 2008 film The Duchess starring Ralph Fiennes as her lord and master, The Duke of Devonshire. Good acting or scene chewing? 

Surely you agree she wears period costumes as good as anyone? Even if you don’t like the films, she is beautiful to look at in Atonement, Madame Bovary, or even Love Actually. Let’s forget about the forgettable Pirates of the Caribbean series. I didn’t mind her opposite of wooden Clive Owen as Queen Guinevere, dirty and blue, biting and shooting at the Saxons in King Arthur (2011).

Instead, consider her recent choices from this decade, now half over. Knightley is diversifying and stretching herself as an actress, and I’m impressed with her recent efforts as Megan in Laggies (2014), Joan Clarke in The Imitation Game (Will she win an Oscar?), or daring to sing, and not bad at it, either, in Begin Again (2013). 

Keira’s devolution is her evolution. The more she relaxes and gives up the British stiff-upper-lip, the better her chances for blossoming out of the compost into something complicated and worth watching on the screen. With strong scripts, she’s a contender.

What’s this? She’s starring and making her Broadway début at the Roundabout Theatre in October, 2015? I’d like to see that!

I read the 1867 French novel, Thérèse Raquin, by Émile Zola ages ago and remember little of the plot other than a love triangle instigates passion, betrayal, and murder. What made the story interesting was Zola’s Naturalistic experiment to apply the principles of Medieval Four Humors  to characters. Like throwing dogs into a pit representing one of the four temperments to see what would happen, it’s an unhappy tale. Naturalistic stories usually are, are they not? I’m more familiar with American writers of Naturalism like two personal heroes, Stephen Crane and Jack London. Back to Keira. I’m happy to see she’s trying Broadway. However, if her character is melancholic, her lover Laurent is sanguine, her cousin/husband Camille is phlegmatic, and her aunt, the Madame is choleric, how grueling emotionally for Keira to play the title role.  We’ve seen Keira Knightley play troubled, suicidal characters before–I wonder how she will adapt to the stage?



 What do you think of Keira Knightley?  

43 thoughts on “Keira Knightley and Zola

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  1. I will forever defend Keira Knightley because she’s one of the most talented and versatile actresses working today! The hate she gets is ridiculous. I’ve likened her to Kristen Scott Thomas, another actress I adore, for the way she just exudes this naturalism. The way she moves her body is impeccably real.

    So, is she playing Therese on the stage? I know they just made the movie with Elizabeth Olsen and Jessica Lange…or was that last paragraph just about a role you’d love Knightley to take on?

    I see her winning an Oscar one day soon. She challenges herself, continues to work with interesting people and projects so I see it happening for her.

    1. Hi Andrew! Sorry, don’t know how I missed your comment; I would have responded sooner. Yay, you are a Knightley fan. I, too, love Kristen Scott Thomas. They could be mother and daughter as they share the same regal beauty with looks and words. There was a 2013 movie, maybe for TV? which starred Jessica Lange, but I have not seen in. Keira K. is performing the title role on Broadway this October. I would love to see a performance! I think her time will come as long as she keeps selecting films with strong scripts and opportunities for showing depth.

  2. Honestly, I don’t think she deserves all of the hate. Granted she sometimes makes bad movie choices, but there are so many weaker actresses making movies today. I generally enjoy Knightley. One performance of hers that is worth mentioning is in “Never Let Me Go”. For those who haven’t seen it it’s definitely worth checking out and Keira is very good in it.

  3. Female version of Tom Cruise? Hmmm, interesting, I never saw it that way. Keira is a bit of a hit and miss for me but she is a good actress in the right role. Love her in Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, and the latest ones, Imitation Game and Begin Again.

    @Keith – I actually didn’t like her in Never Let Me Go, I was much more impressed by Carey Mulligan who I think is just as talented as Keira but doesn’t get as much attention for some reason.

    1. Hi Ruth! Well, they don’t have the longevity of career in common. He could probably be her daughter. However, I think they are both talented but they seem to be controversial. Their voices and mouth/teeth seem to grate on people’s nerves. Anyway, Yes, to your list of favorites, they are mine too!

  4. Keira, you had me at Bend it Like Bekham! No one mention that movie! I didn’t know she had the Anne Hathaway syndrome and people actually hate her (is there a website on that too?!!!)

    She is a beautiful intelligent actor. I saw her on Jon Stewart a couple of years ago and she was smart and witty. I don’t see her as the female Tom Cruise because I don’t think they’re in the same league. Tom is not a great actor. He’s fine, but she has much more substance/layering to her acting. I thought she was miscast in The Imitation Game and am not sure how much I liked the character. The story is different in real life, so she did play a fictional character to some extent. I would love to see her at the Roundabout. She seems to do well in classical roles.

    1. Hi Barbara! I like Tom Cruise and he’s had some very good acting roles over the decades. The two of them seem to arouse either love or hate among the movie buff crowd. I would love to be there, too, to catch a performance. Thanks, Barbara!

  5. the character she played in the imitation game didnt even exist in real life. see “breaking the code” for a more accurate representation of the woman who played a miniscule part in the math genius’s life. wish i was in new york to see keira play therese racquin. im still hitting myself for missing burton and taylor in private lives.

    1. Yes, I remember you talking about ‘Breaking the Code’. Oh, what a pity you missed that! I saw Burton in Chicago play King Arthur in Camelot. Not a stellar moment in his late career, but oh well. I saw him. I miss live theater.

    2. The character she played in The Imitiation Game did very much exists in real life. Certain aspects of it were inventions (such her relationship with her parents and the way she was recruited), but it’s absolutely true the her and Turing were close and – for a time – engaged.

  6. Noooooo please don’t ‘forget’ about Pirates of the Caribbean! Agreed that the the series has now dragged on for longer than is socially acceptable (Johnny Depp likely at the bottom of all this given his attempt to keep the dream alive with The Lone Ranger, terrible terrible film) but in 2003, at the time of the release of The Curse of the Black Pearl, I feel pretty confident in saying that the concept was fresh and the acting was reasonable, which is all Disney needed in their magic formula to create, what I thought, was a pretty entertaining movie! Keira did a great role in ‘overplaying’ (as is required in these types of films) the feisty damsel (not) in distress, and lacked any kind of chemistry with Orlando Bloom, which I think was likely was the directors were after to create a fun filled, family friendly action movie. If Pirates of the Caribbean is a cheese board, then Keira Knightley is a huge slab of stinky Camembert, and I love her!

    1. 🙂 thanks Brit for defending the series which you are right, it’s audience was the family and preteens. I was entertained in the first one because I love Geoffrey Rush, et al, but then it got old quick for me. Keira did what she was supposed to do, play a stock character, and she did that. Glad to have you aboard!

      1. Thanks! I should have added as a footnote that I am a out and proud Disney fan – I was one of the lucky British few that had the pleasure of experiencing the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ Disney World ride before the film was released 🙂

        1. Good for you! Disney is an American Icon and I do believe he was a fine man (Did you like ‘Saving Mr. Banks’?) and during the birth of TV and films in color during the fifties and sixties, it was great to feel the magic. Then it seemed to have gotten out of hand–his corporation–everything a media gimmick and shameless push toward consumerism. I do admire Pixar films and I do recognize the contributions. Goodness, I was the original child he pitched to. Cinderella is my favorite story.

  7. the original broadway soundtrack for camelot, with burton and julie andrews, was the first 33 1/3 album i ever bought. i was planning to see burton’s revival of it ln NY in the 70’s. but he was replaced by richard harris before i could make it. the closest i got to burton was via electronivision when his 1964 hamlet was piped in live to a seattle movie theater. by the way, check out my begin again post. i have added an audio file of an interview i did with carney, hansard, and irglova in 2006…great piece you have done here on knightley. im going to watch bend it like beckham as a result.

    1. I was thinking of you, Abbi, when I said she garners “admirers and revilers” in equal amounts. I remember your post and your feelings toward her. But, yes, I love The Duchess. When she had to hand over her baby on the soggy road with the gray clouds and her gut wrenching as she gave away her daughter. Gosh I cried like a baby.

  8. I definitely love Keira, she’s so different from all actresses and women out there that seem to want to be considered as just pretty animals. And then let’s better not start talking about her talent… 🙂

  9. I’m a massive fan. I find Keira playing interesting rolls–and some that stretch and challenge–that can only add to the palette of people she’s attempting to portray. And that is evidence of an artist working to grow their craft.
    I’m so looking forward to seeing her in The Imitation Game. I’ve enjoyed the majority of her work, if for no other reason than the monumental effort she appears to put into her acting. I’ve never seen her ‘phone it in.’
    What a lucky day it would be for you to see her live and in such a meaty, rich role.
    Lovely post, Cindy!

  10. I generally like Keira Knightley, especially when she makes good movie choices. Including the films you’ve mentioned, The Duchess, Atonement, Love Actually. I even liked her in the first ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. I wonder how she’d transfer to stage. Am looking forward to seeing your review, of this play, based on Émile Zola’s novel.

  11. I’ve always been a defender of Keira, not really sure why she got so much hate. I do think her Oscar nomination this year is slightly odd though, hardly a world beating performance. Still, glad she’s become a little more respected recently.

    1. Hi Chris. Yes, I think she has potential to be outstanding; I agree, she did fine in The Imitation Game, but not earth-shattering. I suspect Julianne Moore will win the Oscar. I think she’s on the upswing….

  12. I love Keira Knightley. She really does excel in period dramas. I love her in Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. Anna Karenina was lovely as well. I have yet to see her more recent modern movies, hopefully I’ll catch up with it soon 🙂
    Great post!

  13. Wonderful post Cindy. I admire the work of Knightley and I adore the elegance with which she’s able to wear costume. That said, I was surprised by her recent nominations for The Imitation Game. I didn’t find her character particularly ground-breaking or her performance especially powerful. It seemed a bit of a lazy choice to me. I’m still looking forward to seeing where her career goes over the next few years though.

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