Infamous for her portrayal of historical women in period pieces, Keira Knightley has won the hearts of many for playing characters who are breaking free from the chains of propriety, societal femininity and timidness, and standing up to the patriarchal society in their own unique ways. That’s why she’s who we’re highlighting for this week’s Fierce Female!
I first fell in love with Keira after her character’s reaction to the famous line spoken by Geoffery Rush as Captain Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, “You best start believin’ in ghost stories Miss. Turner… you’re in one.” At only seventeen years-old, Keira’s acting as Elizabeth Swan (Turner) in this film was sublime. I could write a whole article about Elizabeth, and Keira’s interpretation of her, but we’ll save that for another day!
Keira began acting at the young age of three in her hometown of Teddington, London. She starred in several local plays, commercials and small television roles before getting her ‘big break’ as a supporting character in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. At age eleven, she was diagnosed with dyslexia and has struggled with reading ever since, but she was too determined and driven in her acting career to let it slow her down.
In 2002, Keira earned her first starring role as Juliet Paxton in Bend It Like Beckham. Though skeptical about it, Keira gained international attention and the film won several awards due to the charming nature of the characters. Because of the film’s success, she landed the role of Elizabeth Swan in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl – based on the ride at Disneyland – thus becoming the catalyst to her reputation of playing women in period pieces.
Though she did other types of work (like the ever-famous Love Actually), Keira is most recognized for her role in the Pirates of the Caribbean series as well as her portrayal of Elizabeth Bennett in the film rendition of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. Keira has noted that she finds that often women are portrayed distastefully in most modern Hollywood films. She praises companies like Netflix that put strong female characters at the forefront, making them more than just the love interest or sad woman overcoming the trauma of sexual assault. She has said, “I’ve found very inspiring characters offered to me in historical pieces.”
With the rise of the #MeToo movement, women’s voices are finally being heard. Times are changing, and Keira says she has excitedly received a number of scripts set in modern day where the female characters are complex and realistic. She has worked with several amazing female filmmakers, but says that the (slim) number of female writers, directors and producers in the spotlight needs to change, “so the way that society views women through drama is much better and much more well rounded.”
Having began her acting career at such a young age, Keira knows what it’s like to be a young woman under heavy scrutiny and because of that, finds herself very protective of young actresses in the industry. She pushes back when people belittle them, and encourages everyone to just be a little kinder.
It’s clear that Keira is an advocate for social change and equality for women. In her most recent film Colette – which has been fifteen years in the making, having only been funded this past year – Keira plays a woman in the 1890s whose husband pushes her to write novels under his name. After gaining success and fame for himself, Colette challenges the status quo in order to let herself be heard and her talents be viewed as what they are: her own. She questions the idea of gender and femininity, having female and transgender lovers – something that was completely taboo in the time period.
Keira has been killing it in the film industry ever since she first stepped on the scene. We’ll cheer her on as she continues to play inspiring women, and champions for change, not only for women in Hollywood, but for all. Keep being a badass, Keira!