Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina

Why do women all seem to hate Keira Knightley? No, really, I know you do. I’m curious about why, though. Because personally, I like her quite a lot.

A while ago, our friend Tyler Coates over at Blackbook wrote a piece questioning the Keira Knightley hatred saying:

I don’t mean to be a Dude Who Calls Out Women here, but the criticisms I hear about Knightley’s failings here are generally reduced to “she sucks” or “her chin is too big.” Yeah, sure, she has a prominent chin. But that’s like saying that Christina Hendricks is a shitty actress because of her tits, no? Isn’t there something deeper here that we can point our fingers at? I mean, compared to other figures who receive well-documented vitriol (Zooey Deschanel or Gwyneth Paltrow, to name just two examples), Keira Knightley hardly does anything annoying. She doesn’t have any lifestyle websites, and she doesn’t make an attempts at a music career. All she has done, really, is been in pretty good movies and done pretty good jobs in all of them.

And those aren’t just regular people Tyler hears that “her chin is too big” comment from, either. A reviewer in The Guardian said that Keira would be, in part, unable to play Anna Karenina effectively because “there’s no getting around it, there’s the jaw thing.” As though a somewhat strong jaw renders acting impossible.

One commenter replied to Tyler’s piece, “she is beautiful but also has bitch face. That is why. No article needed.”

Well, wow, that is an awful reason. That is not a real thing, and that is the kind of logic that demands that women wear rictus grins at all times regardless of how they are feeling. And have plastic surgery to “improve” their already ridiculously beautiful faces.

Meanwhile, most of the criticisms I’ve heard of her fall along the lines of “Anna Karneina wouldn’t have had that body type.” Which, no, I suppose she would not have, because they did not have SoulCycle or whatever Keira Knightley does, in 19th century Russia. Anna also would not likely have had all of her teeth.

People did indeed, look different through much of history. They do not look that way in movies because we demand our movie stars look a certain way and criticize them relentlessly if they do not. I don’t think in a culture in which female celebrities are mocked for having any cellulite at all on the cover of national magazines you can fault any woman in the public eye for attempting to maintain a thin frame. It may not be achievable for a lot of people – especially if they lived in previous centuries – but we hear about many, many actresses adhering to strict dietary regimens.

And it seems to me that it’s just plain not consistent to dislike someone for having an unusual frame, especially since most women seem to love Christina Hendricks and her frame is equally unachievable for most people.

Is that really a reason we hate Keira Knightley? Because she seems to have a slender frame? That’s a terrible reason to hate her. Hell, that’s a terrible reason to hate anyone.

And, like Tyler, I’m hard pressed to think of a single movie I’ve thought she really acted badly in. I thought she seemed warm and delightful in Love, Actually. I thought she was supposed to be somewhat stiff in Atonement, and she was criticized for being “somewhat stiff.” And for having a jaw ans being thin. Still. Points just for being able to do the splits in mid-air, because that is some kind of athleticism right there. Pride and Prejudice, well, I prefer the Laurence Olivier version, but I prefer that version of virtually everything. And, actually, I thought she was really, truly good in The Duchess, playing Georgiana of Devonshire. Playing that role accurately requires managing to be both a high spirited clotheshorse of a socialite and a respected feminist intellectual which is… tough. And I think she did it as well as it could be done.

In spite of that, all The Telegraph said about her performance was:

“Knightley looks woefully, painfully thin throughout. It’s hard to listen to what she’s saying when all you want to do is feed her chips.”

Really, male critic? It is hard for you, a film reviewer, to pay attention to a woman’s performance if she is thin. That is interesting.

You should be fired, because I assume you cannot pay attention to half the actresses onscreen.

And by the way, she looked fine.

keira knightley duchess

Yep, still able to pay attention to the movie.

That said, admittedly, A Dangerous Method was awful. Hilariously awful. Awful in a way that means that you should leave the theater. But that was for everyone in it, not just Keira Knightley.

Still. If you’re going to hate Keira Knightley, I want a reason other than “I don’t like the looks of her.” Unless you have a great justification for why that is a good reason, which, well, in that case for for it, and I’ll be interested to hear it.

Picture via Anna Karenina, The Duchess