Best: Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Knightley’s first pairing with debut feature director Joe Wright earned her an Oscar nomination (her only so far), and it’s not hard to see why.
As Elizabeth Bennet, Keira adds fire and feistiness to what could easily have become a limp new adaptation of Jane Austen’s much-adapted book. Under the breezy direction of Wright, she stirs loin-warming chemistry with Matthew Macfadyen’s Mr Darcy, meaning her Elizabeth has become the defining portrayal to a generation of movie-goers.
Worst: The Hole (2001)
Knightley gets ‘em out for the boys (and the girls, and everybody else) as a vacuous pretty-girl student at a private school.
Locked up in a bunker with Thora Birch, Laurence Fox and Desmond Harrington, this teen thriller revolves around what really happened down there in the dark. Knightley doesn’t hold back as a rich bitch, but the film’s not much more than a one-note commentary on bullying.
Best: Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (2003)
First and best of the Pirates Of The Caribbean films, Knightley squeezes into a corset governor’s daughter Elizabeth Swann, who has the final golden coin from a looted booty that Geoffrey Rush’s pirate Barbossa is trying to get back.
Though she’s essentially a straight character put in place to balance out Johnny Depp’s scene-stealing turn as Captain Jack Sparrow, Knightley roughs up Elizabeth’s edges, turning her into a tomboy who can hold her own in a fight (mostly). Meanwhile, the love story between Elizabeth and Will (Orlando Bloom) is par for the course, but handled better here than throughout the rest of the series.
Worst: Love Actually (2003)
Cropping up in one segment of Richard Curtis’ jigsaw puzzle romantic comedy, Knightley plays a new bride for whom her husband’s best friend is holding a big, giant flame.
Knightley doesn’t get to do much except take part in a fake wedding, laugh a lot and try to look like somebody you’d have a massive crush on. But we know nothing about her character, nor do we really care that some guy who’s not her husband is in love with her. “I look quite pretty,” she giggles in one horrible scene. We die inside.
Best: Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Mans Chest (2006)
The first follow-up to 2003’s unexpected rum-swigging hit, Dead Man’s Chest attempts to turn Pirates Of The Caribbean into a film franchise, and succeeds marginally.
Knightley’s back as Elizabeth, basically doing much of the same in a high-seas chase movie that involves Bill Nighy as squid-faced baddie Davy Jones. Though it’s not an (eye)patch on Black Pearl , it contains some fine moments, and Knightley’s pivotal in the film’s climactic cliffhanger.
Worst: Pirates Of The Caribbean: At Worlds End (2007)
The first Pirates film starred a perpetually drunk, booze-swigging anti-hero. This third Pirates film appears to have been scrawled by that inebriated rum-chugger on the back of a whiskey crate. Near incomprehensible in its over-cooked twists and turns, it’s a messy trilogy-capper that does Knightley few favours.
By now, the love story between Elizabeth and Will has reached The Hills levels of ridiculousness, as the latter proposes but finds numerous obstacles in his path. No wonder Knightley sat out this year’s fourth adventure. Shipwreck averted.
Best: The Duchess (2008)
With hair backcombed to simply epic proportions, and frocks the size of circus tents, Knightley’s a literally towering presence in this historical drama.
Alright, so the film itself is a rather bloodless affair, concerned with 18th century aristocrats and their interminable love trysts. Knightley, though, strains beyond the meagre material to deliver a performance that plays up the tragedy of her character without ever tipping it over into teeth-gnashing melodrama.
Worst: London Boulevard (2010)
The names involved in this tepid adaptation of Ken Bruen’s crime novel are the best thing about it, with Knightley giving it her all alongside Colin Farrell and Ray Winstone.
Sadly, debut director William Monahan delivers a film absent of tension or believable drama. Knightley and Farrell, meanwhile, are unable to stir even the slightest hint of chemistry, while Knightley’s character is more a pale ghost than a flesh and blood human being.
Best: Last Night (2010)
After a few years spent honing her craft on the theatre boards, Knightley returns more mature and confident than ever in this tricky, emotionally draining domestic drama.
Though the tone’s often languorous and meditative, Knightley excels as a young married woman who’s tempted to cheat on her husband (Sam Worthington) when an old flame comes calling. That Knightley is able to hold her own against the combustible likes of Eva Mendes is worth celebrating alone.
Worst: Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace (1999)
A thoroughly thankless role, thissun, Knightley relegated to playing a duff lookalike decoy to the real Queen Amidala. To be fair, it’s her first proper crack at the big screen, so of course the spotlight should be on Natalie Portman.
Barely given more than two lines, Knightley’s lost under swathes of make-up and costume. Lucas’ original trilogy would’ve given her a tragic backstory at least. Here she’s a mere cipher who (presumably) has been killed by the time Attack Of The Clones rolls around.
Best: Atonement (2007)
Back with director Joe Wright, Knightley takes another dip into the past for a polished period drama. Atonement is far more barbed than Pride & Prejudice , though, dealing in adult themes of love and betrayal.
Wright’s film may be mostly remembered for that stunning panoramic shot of the beaches of Dunkirk, but Knightley is equally magnificent as a ‘30s socialite whose fling with James McAvoy’s Robbie comes to an abrupt end. Knightley plays out the heartbreak with glassy poise.
Worst: Domino (2005)
It looked quite good on paper, to be fair. Knightley ditches her trademark corsets for an edgy, contemporary take on the life of real bounty hunter Domino Harvey. And Tony Scott’s directing, no less.
Sadly, we never buy the posh as blue china Knightley as a gun-toting bad-ass. “I am a bounty hunter,” she says, but it just never rings true. Not helping matters is the overt campery of it all – one horrendous scene seeing Knightley stripping down to her smalls for some kind of sexy exit strategy. Deadly.
Best: Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Knightley hits the big time in Gurinder Chadha’s feel-good football comedy.
The focus is more on the family drama and friendships than it is on the kick-abouts, but Knightley impresses both on and off the pitch as skinny athlete Jules Paxton. She plays up her poshness as a precocious teen, but never gets annoying with it. A confident early turn.
Worst: Never Let Me Go (2010)
And it looked so promising. Teaming up with Brit up-and-comers Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield, Knightley helps bring Kazuo Ishiguro’s much-loved genre-splicing sci-fi drama to the screen.
Unfortunately, it’s a disaster. With Knightley and co playing three pupils who attempt to escape a nightmare boarding school, it’s lethargic and morose. Knightley has a good crack at it, to be sure, but the film’s not a patch on Ishiguro’s haunting, melancholic tome.
Best: The Edge Of Love (2008)
Knightley proves surprisingly adept at a Welsh accent. More importantly, her turn in this Dylan Thomas biopic set the headlines aflame with rumours of passion scenes between her and Sienna Miller.
In reality, all they do is share a bath. Which means the focus is more on the characters, as Knightley and Miller fight for the affections of their leading man. It’s an impressively varied performance for Knightley, who - in the film’s dreamy, gorgeous opening cabaret scene - shows us she can sing as well.
Worst: Silk (2007)
Knightley straps herself into more old-fashioned frocks for this period snore, which follows Michael Pitt’s 19th century French merchant, who smuggles silkworm eggs back from Japan to his town’s silk factories.
As his wife, Knightley’s offered a threadbare role that barely gives her a chance to utter a single line, let alone delve into any meaningful characterisation. Which we should probably have guessed from the plotline, a guarantee of a good night’s sleep if ever there was one.
Best: King Arthur (2004)
Spicing up this somewhat lacklustre retelling of the legend of King Arthur, Knightley goes all action heroine as Lady Guinevere. Spewing arrows and sexing up a decidedly male-oriented yarn, she’s a fine addition to a beard-y cast.
The film itself owes a thing or two to Gladiator and Lord Of The Rings , but it ditches CGI for a grittier trawl through the history books, and Knightley's presence makes it worth a look.