Keira Christina Knightley was born on 26 March 1985 in Teddington, London, to the theatre actors Sharman Macdonald and Will Knightley. Her mother is of Scottish and Welsh descent, while her father is English. She was meant to be named "Kira", after the Russian ice skater, Kira Ivanova, but her mother misspelled the name when she went to register her. Knightley has an elder brother, Caleb. Macdonald also worked as a playwright after her career as an actress came to an end. She introduced her children to theatre and ballet at an early age. This furthered Knightley's interest in acting, and she requested an agent at the age of three.
Knightley grew up in a modest household in Richmond, London, where she attended Stanley Junior School and Teddington School. At the age of six, she was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia but by the Time she was eleven, with her parents' support and much tuition, Knightley said: "they deemed me to have got over dyslexia sufficiently". She is still a slow reader and cannot sight-read. Knightley has noted that she was "single-minded about acting" during her childhood. Speaking of her fascination with acting, she has said: "There was never anything else, I wanted to be a part of my parents' world, even though I knew there are times when you're unemployed". Knightley performed in a number of local amateur productions, which included After Juliet, written by her mother, and United States, written by her drama teacher, Ian McShane. She focused on art, history, and English literature while studying at the Esher College, but left after a year to pursue a full-time acting career.
After getting an agent at the age of six, Knightley began working in commercials and small television roles. Her first on-screen appearance was in the 1993 Television film, Royal Celebration. She then played Natasha Jordan, a young girl whose mother is involved in an extramarital affair, in the romantic drama A Village Affair (1995). After having appeared in such roles in a spate of television films through the mid-to-late 1990s, including Innocent Lies (1995), The Treasure Seekers (1996), Coming Home (1998), and Oliver Twist (1999), Knightley landed the role of Sabé, Padmé Amidala's handmaiden and decoy, in the 1999 science fiction blockbuster Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Her dialogue was dubbed over by Natalie Portman, who played Padmé. Knightley was cast in the role because of her close resemblance to Portman; even the two actresses' mothers had difficulty telling their daughters apart when they were in full makeup.
In her first major role, the 2001 Walt Disney Productions feature film Princess of Thieves, Knightley played the daughter of Robin Hood. To prepare for the film, she trained for several weeks in archery, fencing and horse riding. During this time, Knightley also appeared in The Hole, a thriller that received a direct-to-video release in the United States. The film's director Nick Hamm described her as "a young version of Julie Christie". Knightley took on the role of Lara Antipova, in the miniseries adaptation of Doctor Zhivago. The series, co-starring Scottish actor Hans Matheson in the title role, first aired in 2002 to good reviews and high ratings. In the same year, Knightley took on the role of a pregnant drug addict in Gillies MacKinnon's drama film Pure. Co-starring Molly Parker and Harry Eden, the film had its world premiere at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival. In a retrospect review Carlo Cavagna of AboutFilm.com noted Knightley's screen presence and wrote that though she, "doesn't have half of Parker's ability [...], shines brightly in Pure".
Despite having appeared in over a dozen film and television roles, Knightley struggled to get a breakthrough. That changed in 2002, when she starred in Gurinder Chadha's sports comedy film Bend It Like Beckham, which was a smash hit both in the UK and the United States, grossing over $76.6 million. It also surprised film critics who were laudatory of its "charming" and "inspiring" nature, social context and the cast's performances. Knightley and her co-star Parminder Nagra, who played the central roles of aspiring footballers, attracted international attention for their performances in the film. To prepare for their roles, they underwent three months of extensive football training under the English football coach Simon Clifford. Knightley, who was initially skeptical of the project, went on to win the London Film Critics' Circle for Best Newcomer and the Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Breakthrough Performance. In an Interview with Tracy Smith she said, "I remember telling friends I was doing this girls' soccer movie [...] And nobody thought that it was gonna be any good." Film critic James Berardinelli, who was largely laudatory of the film and the "energetic and likable" cast, noted that Knightley and Nagra brought, "a lot of spirit to their instantly likable characters".
Following the success of Bend It Like Beckham, Knightley landed the role of Elizabeth Swann, in the 2003 American fantasy swashbuckler film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The film, which was based on the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disney theme parks, saw Knightley, Orlando Bloom, and Johnny Depp play the roles of 18th century pirates. Despite boasting the names of Hollywood stars like Depp and Bloom and a hefty $135 million budget, Pirates was not the most anticipated release of the year, and was expected to fail at the box-office. Knightley herself was not optimistic about its prospects : "I remember being on set just sort of going, 'OK, what is this? Is this any good?" However, contrary to the expectations, the film opened at no. 1 on the box-office, and went to become one of the highest grossing productions of the year, with the worldwide collections of $654 million.
Knightley appeared in the $247 million grossing British romantic comedy Love Actually. The film had an ensemble cast, including her childhood idol Emma Thompson among others. The film opened in November 2003 to positive critical reception. Knightley's sole release of 2004 was the historical film King Arthur, where she played the role of a warrior and the wife of the titlular character, Guinevere. To prepare for the role she took boxing, fighting, archery and horse-riding lessons for three months. Although the film garnered unfavorable reviews, Knightley's stature as a performer grew; she was voted by the readers of Hello magazine as the industry's most promising teen star ahead of Scarlett Johansson, and featured in Time magazine's article stating that she seemed dedicated to develop herself as a serious actress rather than a film star.
Kinghtley appeared in three films in 2005, the first of which was the psychological thriller The Jacket, co-starring Adrien Brody. In a mixed review for Empire, Kim Newman wrote that the role was unlike the ones that Knighley had previously taken up : "Knightley, getting out of period gear and talking American, tries to broaden her range and is arguably well-cast". She next played the title character in Tony Scott's French-American action film Domino, based on the life of Domino Harvey. The film's release was delayed on multiple occasions, and upon its eventual release in November, it garnered negative reviews from film critics and poor box-office collections.
Knightley's most successful release of the year was Pride & Prejudice, a period drama based on Jane Austen's novel of the same name. Knightley, who admired the book from a young age, said of her character, "The beauty of Elizabeth is that every woman who ever reads the book seems to recognise herself, with all her faults and imperfections." Upon release, the film became a huge commercial success with total collections of around US$120 million worldwide, and garnered positive reviews from critics. Derek Elley of Variety wrote highly of her performance and screen presence: "Looking every bit a star, Knightley, who's shown more spirit than acting smarts so far in her career really steps up to the plate here". He regarded her "luminous strength" to be reminiscent of a young Audrey Hepburn. Knightley earned a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for her performance, becoming the third-youngest nominee for the latter. BAFTA's failure to provide her with a nomination drew criticism from the film's producer Tim Bevan.
Knightley was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, among other artists in 2006. She reprised her role as Elizabeth Swann in the second and third releases of the Pirates of the Caribbean series. The two sequels were conceived in 2004, with the writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio developing a story arc that would span both films. Filming for both the projects took place in 2005, with the Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, being released in July 2006. With the worldwide collections of $1.066 billion, it became the biggest financial hit in Knightley's career. The third installment in the series, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, was released in May, the following year.
Knightley's continued association with period dramas yielded varying results, as seen with two of her 2007 releases, Francois Girard's Silk, and Joe Wright's Atonement, the feature film adaptations of the novels by Alessandro Baricco and Ian McEwan respectively. While the former project failed at the box office, the latter became a critical and commercial success. Knightley garnered widespread acclaim and such accolades as the BAFTA and a nomination for the Golden Globes for her portrayal of Cecilia Tallis, the elder of the two Tallis sisters. In preparing for the film, where she was seen opposite James McAvoy, she studied the "naturalism" of the performance as seen in the films from 1930s and 1940s, such as In Which We Serve (1942) and Brief Encounter (1945). Critic Richard Roeper was puzzled by both Knightley's and McAvoy's Academy Award snubs, stating "I thought McAvoy and Knightley were superb."
Knightley appeared alongside Sienna Miller, Cillian Murphy and Matthew Rhys in John Maybury's 2008 wartime drama The Edge of Love. The film had her play the role of Vera Williams, a childhood friend of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and his wife Caitlin Macnamara. Sharman Macdonald, wrote the screenplay with Knightley (her daughter) as Macnamara in her mind. After Knightley was signed to portray Williams, the character's role was increased with the film focusing on her romance and marriage with a British soldier. She based her performance on Marlene Dietrich, and was to mime to her prerecorded voice, prior to being told by Maybury to sing live. Knightley initially felt embarrassed while singing live: "I was shaking like a leaf", but eventually went through with the plan. Upon release, the film became a moderate critical and commercial success. Knightley's performance and singing abilities were praised by such film citics as Ray Bennett who wrote; "the film belongs to the women, with Knightley going from strength to strength (and showing she can sing!)".
Knightley then starred as the 18th-century English aristocrat Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire in Saul Dibb's widely praised period drama The Duchess (2008), based on the best-selling biographical novel, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman. Knightley garnered largely positive reviews for her performance in the film from critics, with The Epoch Times praising her range in the film writing, "she not only perfectly portrays a witty and feminine Georgiana [...], but also a caring mother, and an abandoned woman." The following year, she was nominated for a BIFA Award for Best Actress for her performance. A film adaptation of William Shakespeare's tragedy King Lear set to star Knightley and Anthony Hopkins was cancelled due to recession.
Knightley made her West End debut with Martin Crimp's version of Molière's comedy The Misanthrope. Starring Knightley, Damian Lewis, Tara Fitzgerald and Dominic Rowan, the play was staged at London's Comedy Theatre in December 2009. The Daily Telegraph described her performance as revealing "both power and poignancy" and The Independent called her performance "not only strikingly convincing but, at times, rather thrilling in its satiric aplomb." The Guardian, however, noted that due to the nature of the role "one could say that she is not unduly stretched." In recognition of her theatre debut, Knightley was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in the play. Knightley also received an Evening Standard Award nomination (longlist) for the Natasha Richardson Award for Best Actress.
In 2010, Knightley appeared in Massy Tadjedin's romantic drama Last Night, in which she co-starred with Eva Mendes, Sam Worthington and Guillaume Canet. The same year, Knightley completed work on an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's dystopian novel Never Let Me Go with Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan. Filming took place in Norfolk and Clevedon in Somerset. Also in 2010, she starred in London Boulevard with Colin Farrell, written by William Monahan, and appeared in a video installation by artist Stuart Pearson Wright titled Maze.
Knightley starred in a 2011 stage adaptation of The Children's Hour by Lillian Hellman at the Comedy Theatre in London. Knightley's only film of 2011 was David Cronenberg's historical drama A Dangerous Method, co-starring Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender and Vincent Cassel. Based on writer Christopher Hampton's 2002 stage play The Talking Cure and set on the eve of World War I, the film depicts the turbulent relationships between fledgling psychiatrist Carl Jung, his mentor Sigmund Freud and Sabina Spielrein. Spielrein, the troubled but beautiful young psychoanalyst who comes between Jung and Freud, is played by Knightley. The costume film premiered at the 68th Venice International Film Festival to a positive reception, while Knightley earned generally favourable reviews by critics, Andrew O'Hehir of Salon.com noting her "the real star of this film".
Knightley co-starred with Steve Carell in the 2012 comedy drama Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Later that year, she reunited with director Joe Wright to film their third production together, Anna Karenina, in which she starred as the title character. She deemed her collaboration with Wright as the most important of her career. Knightley garnered positive reviews for her performance, prompting early Oscar buzz.
The 2013 Toronto Film Festival saw the release of Knightley's first musical film Begin Again with Mark Ruffalo. The film, which was directed by John Carney, had its theatrical release in 2014. Knightley had never sung professionally prior to the project; to prepare for the role of a singer-songwriter, she trained with a vocal coach and learned how to play a guitar. Carney later repeatedly criticised Knightley's performance in the film; stating that she was not convincing enough in portraying a singer-songwriter and continuously describing her as a "model" rather than an actress. He later apologised to her on Twitter for his comments. Knightley revealed in July that music doesn't "sink in" for her, and she is more interested in books and drama. Later that year, she appeared in Karl Lagerfeld's short period film Once Upon a Time...
2014, for Knightley, began with the spy thriller Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit alongside Chris Pine. It was based on novelist Tom Clancy's fictional character Jack Ryan and was the fifth film in the Jack Ryan film series. The film received mixed critical reviews nonetheless strong box-office response. Knightley's next film Laggies (2014), premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival prior to its US general-release on 24 October. A romantic comedy also starring Chloë Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell, the film follows the life of Megan (played by Knightley), a 28 year old underachiever going through a quarter-life crisis. Laggies opened to mostly positive reviews from critics, with Knightley's performance being chiefly praised by critics. Inkoo Kaang of TheWrap wrote of her "delightfully uncouth" performance: "she's a loose-limbed revelation as a pretty-but-normal-looking woman who just can't take things seriously enough to pull her life together."
It was followed by her appearance in Morten Tyldum's historical drama The Imitation Game, a film based on the British mathematician Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch). Knightley portrayed cryptanalyst and numismatist Joan Clarke, who decrypted German intelligence codes for the British government during World War II with Turing. The Imitation Game became a critical and commercial success grossing over $233.6 million. For her performance, Knightley received her second Academy Award nomination, for Best Supporting Actress. Though Lady Jean Forde, who worked with Clarke and Turing at that time felt Knightley was "too beautiful" to play Clarke and said: "She [Clarke] was nothing like Keira".
Knightley's sole release of 2015 was as part of the ensemble cast in the biographical disaster film Everest. The film was based on the 1996 Mount Everest disaster with Knightley portraying mountaineer Rob Hall's wife. Everest opened to mixed review from critics. In October 2015, Knightley made her Broadway debut playing the title role in Helen Edmundson's adaptation of Émile Zola's Thérèse Raquin at Studio 54. Her performance received positive reviews. Alexandra Villarreal of The Huffington Post wrote: "She fumes, and rages, and withdraws, and you can watch her psychological evolution from stifled wife to impassioned mistress to haunted murderer". Knightley then starred in the ensemble drama Collateral Beauty (2016), alongside Will Smith, Edward Norton, Helen Mirren, and Kate Winslet. The film received overwhelmingly negative reviews and earned the cast a Razzie nomination.
Despite previously stating on a number of occasions that she would never return to the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, Knightley reprised her role of Elizabeth Swann with a cameo appearance in 2017's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.
Knightley will produce and star in an adaptation of The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell. She will also play the title role in a biopic of French author Colette, directed by Wash Westmoreland, and star in a biopic of Catherine the Great, directed by Barbara Streisand. In 2016 it was announced that Knightley will play the Sugar Plum Fairy in an adaptation of The Nutcracker titled The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, directed by Lasse Hallström. Knightley is set to star alongside Alexander Skarsgård in The Aftermath, a film adaption of the novel by Rhidian Brook.
Knightley began dating actor Del Synnott in 2001, having met him during the filming of Princess of Thieves. The couple parted ways in 2003, and Knightley then dated model and actor Jamie Dornan from 2003 to 2005, and her Pride & Prejudice co-star Rupert Friend from 2005 until December 2010. Knightley has been in a relationship with musician James Righton, of Klaxons, since February 2011. They were married on 4 May 2013, in Mazan, Vaucluse. The couple have a daughter named Edie, who was born in London on May 26, 2015.
Knightley went on a sabbatical in 2006, suggesting that she wanted to take some time off of acting to travel and focus on her personal life. Speaking to the press in July 2014, she explained that it felt like she had reached the end of the first stage of her career, and the 2014 film Begin Again was like "it's beginning again." Knightley identifies as an atheist. In 2007, Knightley sued the Daily Mail for publishing an article about whether she has anorexia or other eating disorder. Knightley won the lawsuit, and was awarded £3,000 ($6,000) in damages. She added to this amount and donated a total of £6,000 ($12,000) to Beat, a charity for those who suffer mental illness and eating disorders.
A 41-year-old man was charged with harassment in February 2010 after trying to contact the actress on several occasions outside the Comedy Theatre in London, where she appeared in the play The Misanthrope. The subsequent trial folded after the actress was unavailable to testify in court. Another man was sentenced to eight weeks in prison after harassing Knightley outside her home and stalking her in December 2016.
Knightley is the face of an Amnesty International campaign to support human rights, marking the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 2004, she travelled to Ethiopia alongside Richard Curtis, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Julian Metcalfe on behalf of the Comic Relief charity. She posed for photos for WaterAid in 2005 and also for the American Library Association's "Read" campaign (a promotional poster of Pride & Prejudice). The dress she wore to the 2006 Academy Awards was donated to the charity Oxfam, where it raised £4,300.
In April 2009, Knightley appeared in a video to raise awareness of domestic abuse entitled Cut shot for Women's Aid. The video created controversy, with some sources calling it too graphic, while other groups support the video for showing a realistic depiction of domestic violence. In November 2010, Knightley became patron of the SMA Trust, a British charity that funds medical research into the disease spinal muscular atrophy.
For International Women's Day 2014, Knightley was one of the artist signatories of Amnesty International's letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron, in which the organisation campaigned for women's rights in Afghanistan. In July 2014 Knightley travelled to South Sudan on behalf of Oxfam to meet refugees of the South Sudanese Civil War and raise awareness of the conflict.
In May 2016, Knightley signed a letter imploring Britain to vote "remain" in the forthcoming UK EU Referendum. The letter was also signed by John Le Carre, Benedict Cumberbatch and Danny Boyle among others. Later, she appeared in a video aimed at encouraging younger people to vote in the Referendum.
On 12 September 2016, Knightley, as well as Cate Blanchett, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Peter Capaldi, Douglas Booth, Neil Gaiman, Jesse Eisenberg, Juliet Stevenson, Kit Harington, and Stanley Tucci, featured in a video from the United Nations' refugee agency UNHCR to help raise awareness to the global refugee crisis. The video, titled "What They Took With Them", has the actors reading a poem, written by Jenifer Toksvig and inspired by primary accounts of refugees, and is part of UNHCR's #WithRefugees campaign, of which also includes a petition to governments to expand asylum to provide further shelter, integrating job opportunities, and education.
In September 2016, Knightley co-hosted A Night to Remember, part of the Green Carpet Challenge, a charity event highlighting sustainability within the fashion industry. In September 2017, Knightley traded stocks on behalf of the spinal muscular atrophy charity SMA Trust as part of the BGC Charity Day which was set up to commemorate the stockbrokers who were killed during the 9/11 terror attacks.
Knightley has been described by media outlets as "famously open with media", although she herself has stated the contrary: "I don't talk about my private life." In a 2004 BBC poll, Knightley was named among the most influential people in British culture. Knightley has been listed as one of the 100 Sexiest Women in the World by FHM on multiple occasions. She made her first appearance on the list in 2004, and was named "the sexiest woman in the world" in 2006. She was included in every subsequent issue up until 2009. She was a part of the American editions of the list from 2004 to 2006, and was also placed ninth on Maxim's Hot 100 list in 2006.
Knightley was the celebrity face for the luxury goods brand Asprey, Shiatzy Chen as well as Lux haircare products in Japanese television commercials. In April 2006, she was confirmed as the new celebrity face of Chanel's perfume Coco Mademoiselle, though the first photo from the campaign was not released until May 2007. She appeared nude, along with Scarlett Johansson, on the cover of Vanity Fair in March 2006. Knightley has appeared in television commercials for Chanel directed by Joe Wright since 2007 and has endorsed Chanel Fine Jewelry's collection Coco Crush.
Knightley received media attention for her perspectives on feminism, voiced in an interview for Harper's Bazaar UK published in the February 2014 edition. Knightley explained that female artists face greater hurdles in the film industry compared to their male counterparts, and also revealed that she was perplexed by the use of "feminist" in a derogatory sense: "Somehow, it [feminism] became a dirty word. I thought it was really weird for a long time, and I think it's great that we're coming out of that." Knightley posed topless for the September 2014 issue of Interview, on the condition that she not be photoshopped, to draw attention to how "women's bodies are a battleground and photography is partly to blame."
Knightley has been nominated twice for an Academy Award; in 2006 for Best Actress for Pride & Prejudice and in 2015 for Best Supporting Actress for The Imitation Game.