Question of the day: When, oh, when is Anna Karenina showing here? I’m aching to see the latest adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s opus, which premiered in the western hemisphere last week. Word on the street is that the sets are ridiculously beautiful, the costumes are to die for (see below!), and Keira Knightley drips with opulence as the ravishing titular character. I. Cannot. Wait.
Then again, if she was playing a burlap-bundled farm girl in the middle of a tragic wasteland with nothing but a goat and sheaves of corn for company, I’d still go and see this movie.
I mean, it’s Keira Knightley—in period dress.
The first time I ever saw her on the silver screen, she was already laced into her trademark corsets and bustle skirts. But it was the first Pirates of the Caribbean flick, and I was too engrossed in Johnny Depp’s guy-liner and strange, mesmerizing twang to notice the English rose with the ringlets. Friends told me she was “that girl” from Bend It Like Beckham—oh, and Natalie Portman’s decoy in Star Wars Episode 1. But I had never seen the former and wasn’t paying attention during the latter, so both references were hopelessly lost on me.
A year later, I saw her again in King Arthur, where she portrayed a gritty, body-painted reimagining of Guinevere. I made sure to remember her name then—this girl was going to be a star.
Then, in my first year at university, smack-dab in the middle of September, Pride & Prejudice came out. The role of the clever heroine, Elizabeth Bennet (my all-time fave) was bestowed upon Ms. Knightley. She slipped into the robes of a country noble’s daughter, she planted pearls in her hair and wound ribbons around her pastoral frocks, and she made eyes at Mr. Darcy when nobody was looking. And you know what? She looked the way she always looks when she’s dressed in century-old fashion—like she belonged.
After that, I was a goner. As I waited fervently for her next project, I backtracked my way through her filmography. Curiously enough, I always sensed something peculiar—lacking, even—when she wasn’t in costume. It’s like seeing Kirsten Dunst in Crazy/Beautiful immediately after you’ve drooled over her wardrobe in Marie Antoinette. Where’s the sweeping grandeur?
Don’t get me wrong—I love Keira’s real-life fashion sense, which blends the sleek and modern with ladylike vintage. But I’ve always found that she shines the brightest in “antique-chic”; or rather, her on-screen forays into 18th-century ball gowns, Depression-era decadence, and fine leather gloves, jewels, capes and hats (so many hats!). Some girls are just born with the innate capacity to carry extinct couture, the fashions that have long been laid to rest but still funnel into our current trends. And nobody, not in this generation, at least, can do it like Keira Knightley.
Here’s a little show-and-tell to illustrate my point. This reverse-chronicle is spread out over six movies and gives you two dozen sumptuous examples of why the talented Ms. K is the new queen of period cinema. At least, in my eyes (forever!).
(Flashbox photo from The Edge of Love courtesy of Capitol Films)