Keira Knightley and The Duchess
by Molly Young
Beauty is subjective, but Keira Knightley's beauty is less subjective than most. She is classically beautiful, and this is why she does so well in period films: her face lends itself to any time period. If Scarlett Johansson is sexiness incarnate, then Keira Knightley is Beauty with a capital B.
Her face is a funny one, shallow and broad and not unlike a mask in its dimensions. Pay close attention and you'll see that it is ten inches wide and two inches deep. She has caterpillar eyebrows, crooked teeth and a prominent underbite; in moods of consternation her great jaw thrusts itself forward like a mandible. Occasionally her lips look like Dilbert lips:
See what I mean
But do not be mistaken. All of these things are evidence in support of Keira's beauty. Great beauties are mysterious; they are the result of unlikely combinations. Think of Louise Brooks, Marlene Dietrich, Veruschka, Kate Moss.
Another Keira comparison can be found in Audrey Hepburn. Both women are beautiful but unsexy. Is it their skinniness? Their delicacy? In any case, they are awesome but not alluring in the fleshly sense. For this reason both are more popular among women than men. Movie execs have taken note: Keira is more frequently cast in movies targeted toward women than other actresses her age (Megan Fox, Scarlett Johansson.)
An underbite makes you look determined; an overbite makes you look dumb. Proof: Cletus from The Simpsons
The Duchess, like most period films, is plainly designated for female consumption. When I bought my ticket, the men accompanying their girlfriends looked like kids being dragged around an exhibit of Impressionist paintings. If only they knew how much period films have in common with sci-fi/fantasy films!
To wit: the key to one's absorption in a period or sci-fi film lies in how well the filmmakers present their imaginary cosmos. Children of Men did it beautifully. Ditto The Matrix and the Harry Potter films. Marie Antoinette tried to fuck with the formula, and it failed for those who don't align themselves exactly with Sofia Coppola's tastes.
Words not used in this piece that also apply to Keira Knightley: tasteful, mischievous, soigné, pear-shaped.
If the filmmakers do their job, both kinds of movie will evoke a sense of disbelief and absorption that other genres of film can't summon. By these standards, The Duchess scores highly. As in most cases, the pleasure is in the details: candle-snuffers, fuzzy wigs, the imprint of corset lacings on Keira Knightley's back. Is it all accurate? I'm not sure. But the sum is convincing, and that is the point.
Now, this was supposed to be a review of The Duchess, but I can't quite remember the plot. There is a boorish husband, a slutty friend, and many child-rearing complications. Even in the theater, these things fall to the wayside. You need only to look at the advertisements to see that The Duchess is a star vehicle, and that a review of the movie is a review of Keira Knightley. We shan't forget her soon!
Molly Young is the contributing editor to This Recording. She frolics here.
"Shine" - Ben Lee (mp3)
"Milk Thistle" - Conor Oberst (mp3)
"Discover the Lovelier You" - Pernice Brothers (mp3)
Look at her. She's a work of art! Can you be attracted to a work of art
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING