Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Random: Keira Knightley – Defender of the Period

Disclaimer: I feel as if I’ve discussed this issue at length before, but I’ve searched through my blog and I see no record of it – so maybe I dreamed that. Apologies if I have and I’m boring you with my indignation

The period film. is there any issue that is as much a bane to the existence of forward thinking filmmakers and film critics as the period film? For the period film suggests, foremost, an attention on things gone by and with the state of film appreciation so expressly focused on the original a lens which looks back doesn’t evoke much innovation. The war on the period doesn’t quite emanate from a – perceived – lack of originality, specifically, though. Somewhere along the lines period films have become inextricably linked with that fearsome term Oscar bait. (This is probably a fair estimation in at least one respect, I’ll grudgingly admit, because those pretty costumes do make for immediate consideration in those Oscar ballots.) And, just as the period pieces has become inextricably linked with Oscar bait, so has it become inextricably linked with Keira Knightley….or should that be vice versa?
"Here we go again..."

As I’ve said before here, the term “period piece” is an inherently problematic term. It’s become something of ad hominem umbrella term for any film taking place in the 1960s or earlier. Considering that pre-1960 gives us 1960 years of movie fodder and the post 1960 gives us about 50 only shows the oddity in criticising the prevalence of “period pieces”. This brings me to the promulgation of a wave of an annoyance of Knightley’s proclivity to star in period-only films.

Let’s take a look back. Since her rise to relative stardom came in 2002 with Ben it Like Beckham, Knightley has starred in 17 films (I say 18 and not 20, because I count the Pirates series as one for this exercise) – seven of those films have taken place after the 1960s which, of course, immediately reveals a focus on period films that’s hardly invasive. Still, we agree that the majority of her films have taken place before the 1960s, fair enough.

Her period films:
Pirates of the Caribbean (18th century)
King Arthur (4th-5th centuries)
Pride and Prejudice (19th century)
Silk (19th century)
Atonement (20th century – 1935)
The Edge of Love (20th century – 1930s’-1940s)
The Duchess (18th century)
Never Let Me Go (20th century – 1950s)
A Dangerous Method (20th century – 1910s and 1920s)
Anna Karenina (19th century)

So, with over a thousand years of period at her disposal Keira has moved from the 5th century all the way up the mid 1900s. My indignation at dubbing Keira the corset queen (note to self, term is not symbiotic with all periods, hence not all period pieces, but I digress) might seem a bit bizarre but the major form of condemnation that critics have lodged against her is how her proclivity for the “period” has resulted in her being typecast, and thus playing to her strengths.

More of my righteous indignation about the period pieces and Keira after the jump...

To be typecast means “to cast an actor in the same [sorts of] roles”. But, with centuries between roles – what about the period film suggests that each is the “same type of roles”?

This argument baffles me because what stringent elements of similarities are to be found in playing characters during the world war, during the Victorian era, in the middle ages? Are we, then, to indict Meryl Streep for being in contemporary set roles for more than three-quarters of her last 20 films? It’s the bizarre situation borne out of a thoughtless aversion to the “period” film. And, although, I have no grounds to force everyone to like the period film an automatic resentment of a film because of its period setting does emerge as something peculiar. An actor who never stars in a period does not attract censure for being stuck in a contemporary so why does a seeming penchant for period films attract such significant criticism? Just as the contemporary world is peppered with characters of different cadences, is the period where does this belief in period films typecasting performers emerge? I have had my fill of articles on the upcoming Anna Karenina being prefaced with the unnecessary “Sigh. Yet another Keira Knightley period piece.”
"Truthfully: I'm only reading this because it's a period novel."
One is, of course, free to display an aversion for Keira Knightley – in your own terms. But, if a discussion ensues and the main thesis of your argument stems from her “abundance” of period roles I’ll find your case incredibly suspect. If loving a performer in the period (whether it be 5th century period or 19th century period) is wrong, I don’t want to be right – and I probably never had a chance of being right to begin with.
Where do you stand on Keira's apparent inclination for period films?


Squasher88 said...

I'm a big Keira fan and I don't get the hate. I think she gets into these period films because she just suits them so well. Her voice, her gorgeous face, her poise...they all fit those lavish period designs. She's like a fashion model who can act. She's a dream opportunity for costume designers, make-up artists etc.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

The fact that she's equally convincing in roles of both the past and present should be a mark of quality. Not everyone can do period convincingly, yet the collective They would have us punish someone who does? She's a damn fine actress who can do it all. Such talent should be lauded, not tsk'd at.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

as shane wisely said she's almost certainly a dream opportunity for costume designers (and make up artists) because she seems at home in period and contemporary. and as you say walter NOT laud that? no idea.

Heather Smith said...

I say why not stick to what you're so brilliant at? Keira shines in period pieces and is so suited for it. I don't understand the hate either as she's quite good in so many of her films

(also, I'd say Never Let Me Go isn't a period film. It's supposed to be "the future")

Nick Prigge said...

"Truthfully: I'm only reading this because it's a period novel." Ha! Made me laugh out loud. Nice.

You KNOW I'm on your side, man. Always have been, always will be. It's funny because we just had a meet up of a few Chicago bloggers and as we were leaving someone made a derogatory comment about Keira and that led to more derogatory comments and there I was yet again standing all by myself as a Keira Supporter. Sigh. I'm glad you're out here fighting the good fight.

And hey, she was in a contemporary film just this summer! Which I freaking loved in spite of its poor box office (because I think it got released in the wrong season).