40 thoughts on “SNARK WEEK: Keira Knightley Historical Costume Movies

  1. I agree with those who say that the best scenes in “A Dangerous Method” are between Fassbender and Mortensen. Keira tried, but honestly, she does not give a convincing enough performance. (IMHO not enough to make me understand why Fassbender’s Jung would be attracted to her)

    On the other hand, I believe she does a fairly good job in “The Imitation Game”, though the looks are nothing to write home about, even though I have read that Turing’s niece considered she was miscast as the original Joan Clarke was a rather plain woman (*kanyeshrugs*) to each their own, I guess.

    And P&P is a guilty pleasure *gasps*, because it opened my eyes to the wonderful world of Jane Austen adaptations and BBC/ITV period dramas. (don’t mind me, I am young, and until a few years ago, we had very limited access to good British TV period dramas here)

  2. I can’t stand Keira Knightley! So far the only thing I’ve seen that I’ve enjoyed is Bend It Like Beckham. It drives me absolutely nuts that she is in (ie ruins) so many period movies. She just plays the same parts over and over and I don’t think she’s been up to the challenge of incredible and complicated women like Georgiana and Anna Karenina. Some day when we all meet in person I shall have to do my world famous Keira Knightley impression, it’s pretty amazing.

    Knightley’s terrible acting aside, I actually love Anna Karenina. I love the strong visual metaphor of setting it in a theater and I love the costumes. I think they’re a completely different type of stylized than the Reign costumes. The Reign costumes are just weird modern things and bad and don’t have any sort of continuity or make any sense, while the Anna Karenina costumes have a distinct and consistent design aesthetic that works in harmony with the production design.

    1. As I said, I do like her in modern movies — Beckham for starters! But she’s SO out of her depth in period films. And the fantasy/period flicks, well, she’d be OK if the scripts weren’t so dumb & tried to throw period elements in (Pirates, King Arthur). Her delivering the line about corsets & pain in Pirates cannot be lived down.

    2. I’m with you on everything, Katy. I actually enjoyed Knightley’s Anna Karenina and felt like she actually did a decent job with the role. I don’t remember much of her trademark clomping and slouching, so she either affects it for certain roles or the director was able to corral it somehow.

      The costume design aspect of Karenina actually worked way better than the vast majority of modern period films that attempt to put some kind of “avant-garde” spin on the clothing, too. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, it’s filmed almost like it’s meant to be a puppet show (the final scene where Anna throws herself under the train really brings this point home, as does the horse race scene). The sets are weirdly claustrophobic and slightly deconstructed and framed as though they’re being viewed through a stage curtain.

      And, I think for once, the idea to put the main character in costumes that are weird and slightly “off” from the rest of the cast works to underscore that there’s something definitely “off” about Anna. Her costumes weirder and more pronounced as the story progresses and she gets more delusional and mentally ill. So, I’m less inclined to bitch about the lack of historical accuracy in the 2012 AK than I might otherwise, since I think the movie actually pulls together the story, characterization, set, and clothing in a way that works well visually.

      Hm. I should write a Frock Flicks post about this… ;)

  3. OMG. I knew there was a reason why I love you so. I have, for like EVAH had serious IHS (Irrational Hate Syndrome) for Ms. Knightly (who Bunny calls “duckface”). Thank you for breaking it down and allowing me to bask in someone else’s IHS for a while.

  4. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I can’t stand Keira as an actress. She has her own sense of style, but who doesn’t? Keira played really well in Pirates, Atonement, King Arthur, and The Imitation Game. Its not like she chose her wardrobe either.

    Pirates of the Caribbean is meant to be witty and fun. Keira might not be witty, but she took her part seriously, and portrayed a young woman coming into her own, meanwhile doing the same for herself. I really enjoyed these films, and without her in the fourth movie, it seemed rather dull.

    Atonement was okay, but not great. Even James McAvoy was annoying in it. I enjoyed Keira’s characterisation of Cecilia as time went by throughout the film.

    King Arthur was a standard historical film with a twist. Who cares about the historical (I mean mythical) accuracy? I mean, no one really knows the true story of Arthur and the round table. For all we know, he could have been a Roman General. Keira showed potential in this movie, showing Guinevere in a totally different light. I thought that quite refreshing, which is what the director may have wanted.

    The Imitation Game was perfect for Keira. She played as one of the women who helped break the great Enigma code, and fit in perfectly with everyone else with her ability to speak so fast. After all, its been known that people who think fast, speak fast, which in this case, appeared to be true. I thoroughly enjoyed her part in this movie and I would be glad to watch it again.

    For the most part, I know Keira isn’t well suited for historical films, especially depending on the script given to her and the costumes that are put on her thin body. Who knows, maybe she’ll surprise you one day?

  5. I’m just curious about that weird leather top she wore in King Arthur. I’ve NEVER seen anyone do an in depth analysis of it and I’ve always been rather fascinated by it. Like, why? And did anyone ever really wear a top like that in history? I mean, anything is possible and truth is stranger than fiction, but I really doubt that leather top existed anywhere in anyone’s cultural history ever, lol. I’d love to see an in depth analysis of King Arthur’s costumes in general, particularly that leather top.

  6. Thank you, Trystan, for putting into words, with eloquent visual evidence, what I’ve thought for a long time. Hated her in every move I’ve seen her in, set pre-1920, and quite liked her in Beckham, Begin Again and The Imitation Game…and loved her in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World! Though in the last case, I’m willing to admit it may be crush-fallout from Steve Carell. So glad he’s diversifying from all the slapstick.

  7. I want to argue (and i do mean this as respectfully as possible, but sometimes i don’t succeed in expressing it) that, either you haven’t payed attention to Pirates of the Caribbean, or you’re being purposefully obtuse about it because of your dislike of Keira.

    The first photo you used as an example is a promo shot (as well as the last one with the puffy hair), but her actual hair-dos in the movie were always exceptionally neat and tidy, even when she got kidnapped by pirates in the middle of the night, she makes it to the ship with her hair perfectly coiffed as her maid left it.

    Then she’s on pirate ships for the rest of the movie, so she obviously doesn’t have access to a comb or hairpins. But at the end (the second photo, where your only complaint was that she’s pouting? even though it’s consistent with what’s happening in the movie?), when we see her back in society, he hair is again perfectly arranged. I know can’t comment on hair-do style historical accuracy, but please don’t say she would’ve gone to a public event with her hair looking anything but perfect.

    As for the burgundy dress, Barbossa gives it to her while she’s prisoner in his ship (because when she got on board she was wearing only her nightgown). That dress is a relic pulled out of a pirate’s treasure chest! Of course it’s outdated! It could’ve been there for a century! At no point in the movie is anyone implying that it’s the latest fashion, so it’s not a mistake on the costume department’s side but a conscious decision based on plot elements. (the same way you’ve said before that older generations wear outdated dresses)

    And on the topic of Keira herself, I’ll agree that for the more stylish ladies (the dutchess, anna karenina) she need to be more refined. But at least for Elizabeth Swann, it’s a recurring theme: she was never comfortable in those dresses, twice in the saga we see one of her grand dresses sinking to the bottom of the ocean (one in the first movie, when Jack rescues her from drowning, and in the second it’s her wedding dress, that she left behind so she could hide in man clothes) and as her character progresses, she owns up to her pirate garb and rocks it because she’s finally embracing her true nature. The whole point is that the grand dresses were never meant for her, so it makes absolute sense for her to not be graceful in them.

    (as for your *eyeroll* that she had to have known what a corset felt like, of course she did, but that scene wasn’t a “oh she’s getting dressed” moment just for the sake of it, no, it’s subtext for her characters predicament (she’s knows Norrington is going to propose to her and she doesn’t want to accept), and it’s also foreshadowing for her fainting later, which triggers the entire plot.)

    And since I’m already here, I want to point out that not because they used to wear grand dresses, all women in ye old times were graceful and elegant, there must have been all kinds of women in both sides of the elegance-clumsiness spectrum, and as someone who loves period fashion but is on the clumsier side, it’s nice to know i can (hypothetically, because of course you don’t actually wear them anymore) wear those dresses without feeling like i don’t deserve to because i don’t have the grace of a swan.

    I guess my point is, it’s boring (and a constant source of jealousy and frustration) when aaaall women in media are perfectly beautiful and elegant. I’m all for diversity in the portrayal of women, not all have to be porcelain dolls.

    1. a) it’s a joke (note ‘snark week’ in the title), b) we dislike Keira bec. she basically plays the same clompy bull-in-a-china-shop gal in every role. If it was just for one movie, sure, why not have it be some grand statement that ‘not all women in ye olden times were graceful & elegant.’ But she does it in every.single.film. It’s miscasting, pure & simple.

      Even as a “statement,” it’s done anachronistically. It’s a modern cliche that corsets are painful & worn so tight they made women faint. Scarlett shouldn’t have had to clutch a bedpost to lace up her corset either — cliches, cliches, cliches!

  8. Whew, I’m surprised someone else is allergic to Keira. I find her way too modern myself and while eating disorders certainly aren’t funny, it’s awful to look at someone that emaciated. You could put the most gorgeous of dresses on her, but they just don’t look good on someone who has no flesh for the clothes to drape around or shape, just bones the fabric is hanging off of. I have no idea why she’s supposed to be THE romantic costume drama girl female viewers are suppoed to go crazy over and identify with. I just don’t. And yeah, POTC was particularly infuriating in the way they made Elizabeth into this Faux Action Girl and the comment about the corset–when we’re talking about one of the more comfortable models that doesn’t even squeeze around the waist that much–has to be among my top 10 rage-inducing lines in cinema history. And yes, Barbossa gave her the dress, but why is Orlando prancing about in a 1620s d’Artagnan costume at the end? It’s just an absolutely brain-breaking timespan they drew their costumes and props from (from the early 1600s to the mid-1800s). Only the dreadful Prince of Persia, which seemed to want to span 600-1500 while being set around 700 (because hey, it’s the Middle East, who cares?) did worse.

    And the overexposure just makes it extra irritating–it’s like you can’t have a bloody costume drama without her these days. Thank you for this post; it was nice to see someone else sharing my frustrations.

  9. I can’t really blame her for costumes I doubt she picked (even if they are oh so wrong) but I swear it is like no one has ever told her that you don’t just act with your voice but your body. Girl you are playing a character from a time when ladies studied deportment like they were getting a doctorate in it! Walk properly, sit properly and quit sticking your damn chin out!

  10. To this day, I’m appalled by her corset scene in “The Duchess”. Who the devil told that film’s costumers that it was proper to wear a corset without a chemise or shift underneath? That’s as close to a basic no-no in corsetry as you can get.

    1. Yeah, but that’s hardly the only production. MOST productions (these days, anyway) do this — there’s only 1-2 that don’t! (Not that it doesn’t annoy me)

  11. By the way: what the blinkin’ hell is Knightley doing not wearing gloves in the ballroom scenes in “Anna Karenina”?! Gloves were *mandatory* for both genders at such events in that period; as TV Tropes put it in its article on gloves, it was practical as well as fashionable – you don’t want your dance partner’s sweaty palms on your skin or clothes. Greta Garbo, Vivien Leigh, and Sophie Marceau got that right in their versions, as did the various miniseries (though not the Jacqueline Bisset version).

  12. What a shitfest… I was gonna subscribe to this blog/website, and then I read this article. Its like Ive stumbled across the blog of a jealous 14 year old girl? Bitching about someones weight and looks has nothing to do with either constructive criticism or humor, its just plain nasty (not to mention rather childish).

    I know its sometimes hard to remember that these actors are real people, and I both believe and hope Keira herself never read this (though Im sure shes read alot of other hurtfull nonsense), but still, would it kill you to lay off the personal insults?

    As fans of “period dramas”, we of all people should know theres such a thing as manners ;)

    (And its ridiculous how angry people get at these little flaws in costume accuracy. Did you pay the actors to give you a history lesson or something? So much butthurt….)

    1. “She’s tall and lanky with big eyes, all of which is fine in a modern setting. But so often, in historical costumes, she looks off, just not quite right.”

      I don’t see a problem with criticizing Keira Knightley’s comportment and mannerisms in these period films; her movement, behavior, and way of speaking simply come across as awkward and distracting to some people, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling that way.

      I agree with you, however, that criticizing her appearance as too “modern” is pretty silly. See that quote above? I would agree with the author that Keira Knightley is tall and lanky. But why is that considered “modern” and a problem? Other tall, lanky actresses, such as Cate Blanchett and Emma Thompson, haven’t been subjected to this particular criticism, as can be seen here: https://frockflicks.com/cate-blanchett-the-historical-costume-movie-guide/, https://frockflicks.com/woman-crush-wednesday-emma-thompson/.

      Of course, even though both Blanchett and Thompson are tall and obviously quite thin, they have larger breasts than Knightley, which is probably why they escape criticism for their body types and Knightley does not. Yes, Knightley is very thin, which may have something to do with why she is flat-chested, but it’s important to remember that there are plenty of very thin women with naturally larger breasts, as well as plenty of heavier women with small breasts, and unless a woman opts to have breast augmentation, there isn’t much that she can do about her proportions. I’m sure that there were many women hundreds of years ago who had Keira Knightley’s body type. It isn’t something that just suddenly appeared in the modern era.

      1. You’re very right. I think the problem comes with casting Knightley in MULTIPLE period movies in which she doesn’t have the typical body type. It can be interesting to see the non-ideal body type wearing a particular era — see for example the plus-size women in Bessie. However, seeing it over and over — ESPECIALLY when it’s our modern ideal? Then we know she’s not being cast because of any (physical) suitability to the era. Granted, physicality shouldn’t and isn’t the only thing that should be in mind when casting — really, it should be acting ability — but let’s not pretend that it isn’t a huge part of why someone like Knightley is successful and why there are probably MANY super-talented actors/actresses out there who never get anywhere because they don’t fit the modern physical ideal. As was the situation in any era. But yes, point taken, there is always physical diversity in any era. It would just be nice to not have to see Keira in EVERY costume movie.

  13. Kiera always is Kiera in every movie I’ve seen her in. She doesn’t seem to be able to become the characters she plays and it gets dull, especially when applied to beloved literary characters with rich and deep personalities. It’s probably not her fault and I doubt she much cares about some criticism on a blog when she seems to continue to land these roles. But that also means I don’t have to watch them. I’m not up on historical costumes but my inclination told me some of the “period” outfits were modified through a 21st century lens. Cheers!

  14. In the future, please don’t comment on an actor’s weight and body type as a reason to dislike them… This article would have been much better without the constant mention of Keira Knightley being tall, lanky, bony etc…

    I’ve never had a problem with her as an actress, but I get that we can’t all like the same people.
    I don’t really like the 1995 P&P, I prefer the 80s version when I want something long and accurate, and 05 version when I want something to cheer me up.

  15. I honestly don’t care that you don’t like her acting, that a perfectly reasonable reason to not like an actor. And make fun of Keira’a acting and walking as much as you want.
    It’s your comments about her body type that is wrong. No wonder people have eating disorders if it’s now seen as “snarky” to make comments about another person’s body. Did you even think about the fact that some of your readers might have that body type?
    I generally love this blog’s snark week posts, since usually it makes fun of costumes, not human bodies.

    1. I have never disliked a movie so much before. Her “Pride and Prejudice”. The costuming was dreadful, the house scenes were awful. Even the arrival of the hero’s aunt (in the middle of the night) and getting in the line about walking in the garden, was terrible. With the splendid series, with Colin Firth and cast, done some years before. why did they even try. It was a travesty.

    2. Actors put themselves out there as physical types, and that includes their bodies. It’s a fair critcism. Standards of beauty in most of the eras portrayed so recently by Kiera K were NOT tall and lanky. She is wrong for these pre-20th century parts in my opinion because she would have been considered unattractive and malnourished by the people of that time. That’s one reason she looks all wrong in the costumes. And please, she is no Cate Blanchett. Cate’s acting skills are so accomplished that she has the ability to transform herself and look remarkably different from her real self in a role. You forget you are looking at Cate Blanchett. On the other hand, I ALWAYS know I am looking at Kiera Knightly. And I am kinda tired of seeing her.

      1. SharonD an actor doesn’t put themselves out there as a body type they put themselves out there as an actor! There is no such thing as a type for any age in history, there is an ideal beauty but that doesn’t mean all women or men looked like that. Like today there were many different types.

  16. I, too, have winced for years at Keira Knightley’s unhampered, romping behavior, posture, facial expressions and gestures in period films. Her lack of grace is staggering to the point where it becomes perfectly okay to absent one’s self from the theater for more popcorn and soda. She’s would have benefited immensely from one of those two-month charm school courses we all used to be encouraged to take back in the day. Fortunately, she’s starting to age out of the genre; women who are much less clumsy and coltish are starting to show up in these films.

  17. Hey i totally think Keira has kind of ma historical face, she doesn’t look 21st century at all!

  18. Keira should stick to the modern- like 21st Century. Probably the only good thing she’s done is Bend It Like Beckham. It’s a pretty dismal record with King Arthur taking the lead.

  19. Technically her first period drama was a small role as a child in a children’s film The Treasure Seekers circa 1900s actually not sure if it was her first period drama but she was very young

  20. Oh Keira “Stompy Feet” Knightley… I remember seeing one of her costumes from The Duchess (the one she wore at the dinner/meeting with some politicians–can’t find a pic), and being surprised that it was a simple robe a la anglaise (I think) with clean lines. The costumers said they designed it to look like the 18th-century version of elegant business wear, but on screen it looked like she was being swallowed by swathes of fabric. She doesn’t wear period clothes: she fights with them, and they end up wearing her.
    Also, is it contractually agreed-upon in all her films that she cannot have both shoulders covered at the same time? And is that SKIN showing through gaps in her dresses in both P&P&Pigs, and Anna Karenina? Where the fuck is her shift/chemise/slip?!

  21. Re: King Arthur. That leather bikini top looks really painful. And there’s about eleven hundred years between the classical styled blue gown that might have been worn in late antiquity and the quasi fourteenth/fifteenth century brown dress that definitely would not have been.

  22. She’s actually a pretty good actress,and I liked her PnP, and in Potc, she always has her hair style for formal occasions.Elizabeth Swann was raised a lady,she always would have had her hair styled.Keira is playing the Sugar plum fairy in Disney’s upcoming adaptation of the Nutcracker,and the dresses that Clara and her family are shown wearing at the beginning of the film are very 1870 or 1880.

  23. I just discovered your blog and am enjoying the backlog of Snark Week! I am very late to the party and share the weariness of Keira K being the only actress in all these period pieces. However, I think she’d be perfect as Little Women’s Jo March. I always thought Winona Ryder didn’t fit Jo because she’s so petite and delicately featured. Louisa May Alcott describes Jo as “tall, thin… reminds one of a colt”. Jo also tends to stomp around and declared that if “pinning my hair up made me a woman, then i’d wear my hair in two tails until I’m forty!” Unfortunately, Keira may have aged out of the role at this point, but it would have been perfect casting in her heyday. Then the stomping would have been acceptable

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