Someone help poor Keira Knightley. Because clearly, she cannot help herself. She is addicted to period dramas.
Since Bend it Like Beckham in 2003, the British actress has done 11 movies that, one way or another, qualify as “period films.” (And I’m not even counting The Jacket, which took place during the Gulf War era of the 1990s, and is therefore the past.) Now she has two more in the pipeline: In March, she starts shooting The Beautiful and the Damned, playing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda Sayre. After that, she’s likely to begin production on King Lear. Crimeny corsets, Keira! What are you doing to your young, vibrant, contemporary self?
In less, shall we say, inflammatory terms, at last September’s Toronto film festival, I asked Ms. Knightley why she was so drawn to costume dramas. Here’s what she said: “I like the fact that you can completely dive in to a total fantasy — because it’s total escapism. It’s about escaping from the way you live and getting to walk around in an alien being’s shoes. I find that quite freeing. And I love watching them. I love the sumptuous nature of them and how opulent they can be. I’m not against contemporary, and I haven’t purposefully just done period things. It just so happened that the scripts and the characters were the ones that interested me the most.”
Fair enough. For one thing, as we all know far too well, there simply aren’t that many well-rounded roles for actresses out there. And the truth is, Knightley’s damn good at period. Her patrician beauty and manners lend themselves to ye olden days films brilliantly. Plus, the genre’s been good to her right back: her lovely turn in Pride and Prejudice earned her an Oscar nod. Still, actors are always talking about how they long to do something different or refreshing or revitalizing every time they sign up for a new gig, lest they get bored and start feeling uninspired. And doesn’t every actor fear type-casting almost as much as being unemployed? With just one contemporary flick in the pipeline (this year’s romantic drama Last Night), is Knightley running the risk of pigeonholing herself — or worse, boring herself and us? Is it time to stage an intervention? Shall we impound all her bonnets, corsets, petticoats, flapper frocks, and sky-high wigs? What kind of role would you like to see Knightley do?