Keira Knightley is known for her period drama roles in The Duchess, Atonement, The Imitation Game, and Pride & Prejudice – and rightly so; she earned Oscar nominations for those last two movies. But during her 20-year career, the British actress has shown a bit more range than she’s given credit for. With her new movie The Aftermath opening in theaters Friday, here’s a reminder of some of her more surprising and contemporary efforts.
Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
By 2002, Knightley had already appeared in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and cult horror flick The Hole, but her real breakthrough came in this charming British sports comedy film. She plays Jules, a soccer-loving teenager who encourages Parminder Nagra‘s Jess to join the local women’s football team even though her conservative parents have forbidden it. Their friendship is the beating heart of a funny and uplifting film that subtly explores social changes in the U.K.; its title may sound a bit gimmicky 17 years later, but Bend It Like Beckham deservingly became an international sleeper hit and Knightley never looked back.
Love Actually (2003)
Knightley delivers another appealing performance in this Richard Curtis rom-com that’s now acknowledged as a holiday classic. She plays Juliet, whose wedding to Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s Peter is video-taped by his best friend Mark (Andrew Lincoln). Juliet thinks Mark dislikes her, but Mark’s coldness actually masks the fact he has a major crush on her and, well, you probably remember what happens with the cue cards. Knightley returns as Juliet in 2017’s charity sequel Red Nose Day Actually, in which we find out that both her marriage to Peter and friendship with Mark are doing just fine.
Never Let Me Go (2010)
This big-screen adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro‘s acclaimed sci-fi novel is one of Knightley’s most unusual and moving films. She, Carey Mulligan, and Andrew Garfield star as childhood friends who become involved in a love triangle during their teenage years at an English boarding school. Their seemingly ordinary lives are shattered, however, when they discover they are actually clones who’ve been bred to become organ donors. What follows is a haunting and provocative romantic drama which draws powerful performances from the three leads, all of whom picked up a smattering of awards nominations.
Begin Again (2013)
In which Knightley sings! Directed by Once‘s John Carney, this movie-musical follows a relationship that blossoms between Knightley’s budding singer-songwriter and Mark Ruffalo‘s struggling record exec; together they decide to make an album at various public locations all over New York City. It’s a sweet and well-meaning film which shows Knightley’s versatility and thoroughly decent singing voice; a song she performs on the soundtrack, “Lost Stars,” would go on to be nominated for an Academy Award.
In this somewhat underrated rom-com directed by Lynne Shelton (Your Sister’s Sister), Knightley plays an aimless 28-year-old woman who’s evading any kind of personal and professional commitment. When her boyfriend suggests they get married, Knightley’s Megan distracts herself by befriending a 16-year-old high school student (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her sympathetic single parent dad (Sam Rockwell). Knightley’s character could easily have come off as frustratingly flaky, but instead the actress offers warm and relatable portrait of what we could call “millennial apathy.”
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