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FIFI: An Interview With Keira Knightley About Her Costume Drama Melodrama


The FashionIndie FilmInstitue (FIFI) gives the close-up on fashionable films from a bygone era. This week, we take a different course with an interview with Keira Knightley, star of the upcoming film, Anna Karenina.

FIFI: An Interview With Keira Knightley About Her Costume Drama Melodrama

The current queen of costume dramas is no doubt Keira Knightley, who has made a much-lauded career filling the bustles, corsets and powdered wigs of ladies from eras long gone. In her latest film, an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Knightley once gets cinched-in to portray the tragic heroine.

At a press roundtable yesterday, clad in custom Chanel (naturally), Knightley explained why she hasn’t put a period on her period drama phase.

Anna Karenina is Knightley’s third film with director Joe Wright, who previously directed her (to an Oscar nomination, no less) in Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007). While the latter was more contemporary, set in and around the Second World War, the former established Knightley as the go-to gal for costume dramas. 2008’s The Duchess only reaffirmed this…to her chagrin.

“The working day is a hell of a lot longer if you’re dealing with big costume or big makeup movies,” she lamented.  “In costume drama, you’re looking at two hours on top of a 12-14 hour shooting day. That’s a bitch.”

FIFI: An Interview With Keira Knightley About Her Costume Drama Melodrama

But with her delicate bone structure and patrician air, Knightley fits all too well into the world of aristocracy and forgotten refinement, so is it any wonder she’s so often cast in period roles. But in real life, the actress is far more down to earth and would prefer shooting in a pair of jeans then an elaborate 19th century gown.

“That’s why I tend to do one and then go off…it’s great doing a modern day piece. You just come in half an hour before, chuck something on — bish, bash, bosh, lovely .”

That’s not to say that she doesn’t hold a great deal of admiration and respect for the work that goes into those elaborate gowns.

“You really have to take your hat off, it’s a labor of love. It was the same for The Duchess, it was the same for Pride & Prejudice. Any costume piece, the amount of work from those departments is massive. And it does mean a much longer working day. That’s the downer. But the brilliant part of it is that the costumes, the hair and makeup become such a massive part of the character because you’re creating everything from scratch.”

FIFI: An Interview With Keira Knightley About Her Costume Drama Melodrama

She then went on to describe, in great and passionate detail, the symbolism in some of the costumes:

“It was all about the caged bird, it was all about the fur – being surrounded by death – there were dead birds in her hair. Diamonds that could cut your throat in any second because they’re the hardest stone. A lot of the dresses were based on lingerie; the idea that you were referencing sex and death constantly. There were some dresses that were made of bed fabric. The final dress, I was obsessed about the idea of the Whore of Babylon. The color was a very specific color that we got from paintings of the fall of the Whore of Babylon. I mean, the symbolism between all of those was massive.”

Asked if she wanted to keep anything, however, the actress demurred before abruptly blurting out, “The diamonds! Unfortunately I didn’t get any of those. “

Written by Lester Brathwaite

I was center square from 1969 to 1978, during which I perfected the art of the zing as well as a crippling cocaine addiction. Bea Arthur was responsible for both. @LesFabian lester dot brathwaite at gmail