Films That Capture Keira Knightley's Brilliant Career

From Pride & Prejudice to Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Keira Knightley defines elegance and sophistication.

Born on March 26 into a theatrical family, Keira Knightley grew up to become one of the most sophisticated and engaging actresses of our time. Although she has played athletes, pirates, secret agents, and more, she has excelled in bringing literary characters to the screen. Indeed, reading her filmography is like browsing a favorite library, with films based on the novels of Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, Boris Pasternak, Ian McEwan, and Kazuo Ishiguro, among others. To celebrate her birthday, we are showcasing some of her most enduring films.

Keira Knightley's Unforgettable Period Piece Performances

Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen in Pride & Prejudice

Pride & Prejudice

When Knightley was first approached to play Elizabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice, Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation of Jane Austen’s masterpiece, she said in the blog Darcylicious, “I was terrified …because I've been so obsessed by the book.” But Wright told IndieWire that the 19-year-old actress “had incredible wit and intelligence and a very strong personality…that made me think she’d be perfect for Elizabeth.” And her performance set a new standard for the beloved character. Roger Ebert reviewed, “Much of the delight and most of the heart comes from Keira Knightley.” The New York Times wrote simply, “Ms. Knightley is, in a word, a knockout.”

Watch Pride & Prejudice now on Apple TV and Amazon.

Official trailer for Pride & Prejudice

Keira Knightley in Atonement


Two years later, Knightley took on another literary icon: Cecilia Tallis in Wright’s adaptation of Ian McEwan's Booker Prize-winning novel, Atonement. As an aristocratic woman caught up in an impossible relationship with the housekeeper’s son, Robbie (James McAvoy), Knightley embodies the novel’s roiling tempest of desire and despair. Knightley told The Age, “I was fascinated by this woman who is emotionally repressed and yet the emotions are bubbling away under the surface and just waiting to explode." Knightley excelled in her ability to cut a figure that, as Rolling Stone wrote, “blends beauty and gravity to stunning effect.”

Watch Atonement now on Apple TV and Amazon.

Official trailer for Atonement

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

In 2012, Knightly again teamed with Wright to make Anna Karenina, an innovative adaptation of Tolstoy’s great novel. Wright told the Los Angeles Times, “She encourages me to go to places I wouldn't necessarily be brave enough to go to myself." Reimagining the novel as set nearly entirely within a decaying theater, Wright emphasized the story’s ambivalent take on identity and history, especially for a character like Anna. Having loved the novel as a young woman, Knightley now saw the heroine differently, telling Collider, “I see her as being much darker.” For many, Knightley’s performance captured the essence of this timeless figure. “In Knightley, we finally have an Anna Karenina for our times,” wrote Esquire.

Watch Anna Karenina now on Apple TV and Amazon.

Anna Karenina | Waltzing With Count Alexei Vronsky

Keira Knightley and Steve Carell in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

While Knightley is renowned for her sophistication and elegance, writer-director Lorene Scafaria didn’t overlook the actress' skilled sense of humor when she cast her alongside Steve Carell in her apocalyptic romp Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. "I knew she'd be amazing and stunning and super-smart," says Scafaria in the production notes. "But here's the surprise; she is so damn funny.” As a huge asteroid hurtles towards Earth, Penny (Knightley) and her upstairs neighbor Dodge (Carell) take off on a road trip to discover what matters to them in life. Audiences were thrilled at the star’s new direction. “Keira Knightley…is marvelously winning as Penny, all sharp elbows and dark laughter,” wrote Newark Star-Ledger.

Watch Seeking a Friend for the End of the World now on Apple TV and Amazon.

Seeking a Friend for The End of The World | Dodge and Penny's Random Night

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