A Critique of Keira Knightley’s Cinematic Universe

From the Best to the Unwatchable

From Pride and Prejudice where she romantically yells at a powerful man twice her size to The Aftermath where she has the spiciest affair with the eldest Skarsgard son, Keira Knightley’s period dramas have entertained millions of fans. More often than not these movies have consistently included love, fashion, feminism and LOTS of infidelity (Knightley seems to have disappointed more British men than an Aston Villa football match). As a gift to you, we have decided to watch the most remarkable Knightley dramas and give you a brief rundown of her most remarkable characters ranked from best to worst. 

  • Cecilia Tallis – Atonement
Knightley in Atonement

Cecilia is our top-ranked Knightley character because she is just a bit of everything: a sister, a lover, stubborn, loving, angry, forgiving, heartbroken, even a figment of the imagination and beyond. She is just the whole package! Despite the story being told from her sister Briony’s point of view, we got to see much of Cecilia’s growth throughout the short moments in which she exists in Briony’s world. We love Cecilia for her resilience and her fight to bring justice to the man she loves. You can’t watch Atonement without feeling great sympathy for Cecilia’s character and her strength. 

  • Elizabeth Bennet – Pride and Prejudice
Knightley in Pride and Prejudice

Elizabeth Bennet is truly a trendsetter, at least for 1797. She is a supportive sister, gorgeous and smart, and not very rich, yet she does not care for money. She wants to marry for love and love alone. But she has a quick temper that she unleashes on her love interest soon after the movie starts. Moral of the story, she is the blueprint for every classic feminist!

  • Rachael Morgan – The Aftermath 
Knightley in The Aftermath

Third to rank is Rachel Morgan. In typical post World War II Knightley fashion, there’s plenty of drama in this action-packed 109-minute movie. We appreciate Rachael more than we love her and her style is unmatched. In fact, it is safe to say that Rachael is one of Knightley’s most stylish characters. Besides that, she is also a grieving mother and a struggling wife, who is unfaithful. But her beau was played by Alexander Skarsgard himself, so can we really blame her?! 

  • Joan Clarke – The Imitation Game
Knightley in The Imitation Game

The only reason Knightley’s Joan Clarke is not higher up on our list is because she wasn’t the lead character in the film. The story is about how the British mathematician, Alan Turing, helped British intelligence break the German army’s Enigma code during World War II. Knightley’s character, Joan Clarke, was one of the few pioneering women who worked successfully on breaking the code. She became a close associate of Turing and later, also his fiancée. As Clarke, Knightley showed us what it was like to be a woman of great intelligence and determination in an environment that stifled women and limited them.

  • Georgiana Spencer – The Duchess
Knightley in The Duchess

Knightley portrays Georgiana, a wealthy teenager in 19th century England, in this movie, which showcases misogyny and its effects on young women. The story turns tragic almost from the start. In fact, the only time we see Georgiana’s character truly happy is during the first five minutes of the movie. Knightley’s brilliant acting holds you captive, as Georgina navigates an intricate web of lies and complicated affairs.

  • Anna Karenina – Anna Karenina
Knightley in Anna Karenina


In this 2012 adaptation of Anna Karenina, Knightley’s character is slightly underwhelming, compared to that of Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. Yet, it isn’t just the character of Karenina herself that is off-putting. The movie itself is generally disappointing, from its confusing introduction of characters to the over-the-top acting. It takes you through a journey of immorality and society standards in such an overly theatrical manner, that it diverts attention from the main point. You get to detest all of the characters, Karenina included. 

  • Vera Philips – The Edge of Love 
Knightley in The Edge of Love

Knightley, if you are reading this, it’s best that you stop here. We apologize for what we are about to say, but Vera Philips is a completely unbearable character in an even more unbearable movie. It’s like someone sat in the writing room and asked how much infidelity should be present and the director just went “yes.” Philips is a complicated character but not in a good way. The best part about this movie and we mean this in the nicest way possible, is the fact that it ends. 

  • Sidonie-Gabrielle ColetteColette 
Knightley in Colette

As much as we love the literary icon that was Colette, we don’t quite like Knightley’s portrayal of her. Or maybe it just is the uncomfortable marital status of Colette and her husband, Willy, who was benefiting off of her work that put us off. The overall vibe of manipulation, as well as Colette’s unlikeable endeavors make the movie an unfair representation of a writer who was otherwise considered a pioneer in female literature. 

  • Sabina Spielrein – A Dangerous Method 
Knightley in A Dangerous Method

The plot and the acting in this movie are just bad, which is rare for a Knightley film. Seriously, there is so much to not like about this movie, but suffice to say that Sabina Spielrein’s character alone was a complete disaster. Nonetheless, we understand how hard it must have been to play the complex character of Spielrein, a traumatized patient of Carl Jung who later becomes his associate. All in all, we consider Spielrein to be Knightley’s most unlikeable character and the film, A Dangerous Method, to be completely unwatchable.