CAROLE LOMBARD - My Favorite Actress

Monday, February 21, 2011

From The Past To Now: Vivien Leigh to Keira Knightley

For this month's from the past to now series, where I compare a classic film actor/actress with a modern one, I've chosen Classic Movie Goddess of the month Vivien Leigh and current star Keira Knightley. Both are talented actresses that are favorites of mine. Quantity is not one of the common factors though. Leigh only made 19 films in her still impressive career. At age 25 Knightley has already made close to 30 films. One of their shared traits is their number of period films they have made. Leigh made five, which would be 1/4 of her total film output. Knightley, so far has starred in 8 period films in her young career. So I will focus on these two wonderful actresses for this post.



Viv's five period films include Gone With The Wind (1939), Anna Karenina (1948), Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), That Hamilton Woman (1941), and Fire Over England (1937). That's an impressive list right there if she never made any other films. I mean she did win an Oscar for Gone With The Wind. In fact, Viv won 2 Oscars on 2 nominations (the other film being A Streetcar Named Desire). She was 2 for 2. Anyway, her other four period films showed how much at ease she was playing in these costume epics. Not too many actresses could handle these types of roles or do them consistently. I know more people remember Elizabeth Taylor when she played Cleopatra but Leigh gives a pretty good performance herself as the Queen of the Nile. I was more than impressed with her take on Cleopatra.  And let's not forget her take on Anna Karenina, following in the footsteps of the legendary Great Garbo, who had played the same role 14 years earlier than Vivien. I thought Viv did just a good as job as Garbo did but I think both sides are split 50/50. Garbo has her fans while Leigh has hers. But Vivien's role as Emma Lady Hamilton in That Hamilton Woman is all hers. No comparisons to other actresses, this is Vivien's all the way. She gave an excellent performance and looked beautiful as ever. And I've yet to see Fire Over England so I can't critique it, but I imagine she is top notch as usual.





Keira's contributions to the period film genre is a little more action packed. Half her films are of the swashbuckling kind, thanks to the three Pirates movies and King Arthur. And while those films didn't require a lot of acting per se, Knightley showed an amazing ability to be quite centered and self reliant. Didn't have to wait on a man to come save her. And she was only 17 when she first played Elizabeth Swann in the first Pirates movie, showing great poise at such a young age. Now as Elizabeth Bennett in the updated Pride and Prejudice, she got a great part and more than delivered with a wonderful performance. This was a plum role for Keira and she did not disappoint. I did not see her 2007 film Silk which cast her as a 19th century woman betrothed to a silkworm smuggler. I didn't hear too many rave reviews about it either. But Keira would bounce back with 2008's The Duchess, which I did see and thought she gave one helluva performance. A chronicle of the life of 18th century aristocrat Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who was reviled for her extravagant political and personal life. The Duchess served to show that Keira was the go to woman for period films, without question. Oh and one more period film that she did early in her career was the 2001 British TV film Princess Of Thieves,which had her playing the daughter of Robin Hood. All in all Keira has amassed quite the collection of period films, rivaling that of Vivien Leigh. I thought it made a cool comparison to post about these two women. Would love to hear what everyone thinks.


Dawn said...

Monty, Wonderful post on two of my favorite period film actresses.

Audrey said...

Hard to believe Keira was only 17 when she played Elizabeth Swann!

Interesting comparison of the two. I can definitely see the similarities.

Kori said...

What an amazing post Monty! I love that pic of Liz at the top of your page! Kori xoxo

ClassicBecky said...

Was Keira in the Pride and Prejudice that also starred Colin Firth? If so, I saw it, but probably had my eyes glued on Colin the whole time! I have to see I have not seen her other movies -- I don't know why. Of course I have seen ALL of Vivien Leigh's movies...she is truly a movie goddess. Keira is a lovely girl.

Really interesting post, Monty. I'll have to catch up on Keira!


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