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Knightley, who was initially sceptical of the project, went on to win the London Film Critics' Circle for Best Newcomer and the Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Breakthrough Performance.
In an interview with Tracy Smith she said, "I remember telling friends I was doing this girls' soccer movie [...] And nobody thought that it was gonna be any good." Film critic James Berardinelli, who was largely laudatory of the film and the "energetic and likable" cast, noted that Knightley and Nagra brought "a lot of spirit to their instantly likable characters".
While growing up, Knightley performed in a number of local amateur productions, which included After Juliet, written by her mother, and United States, written by her drama teacher.
She focused on art, history, and English literature while studying at the Esher College, but left after a year to pursue an acting career.
She began playing Elizabeth Swann in 2003 in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, and she received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress for starring as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice (2005).
She subsequently became known for starring in several other period dramas, including Atonement (2007), The Duchess (2008), A Dangerous Method (2011), Anna Karenina (2012), and Colette (2018).
Following the success of Bend It Like Beckham, Knightley landed the role of Elizabeth Swann, in the 2003 American fantasy swashbuckler film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.
The film, which was based on the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disney theme parks, saw Knightley, Orlando Bloom, and Johnny Depp play the roles of 18th century pirates.
In a mixed review for Empire, Kim Newman wrote that the role was unlike the ones she had previously taken up : "getting out of period gear and talking American, tries to broaden her range and is arguably well-cast".
Despite boasting the names of Hollywood stars like Depp and Bloom and a hefty 5 million budget, Pirates was not the most anticipated release of the year, and was expected to fail at the box-office.
However, contrary to the expectations, the film opened at no.
Derek Elley of Variety wrote highly of her performance and screen presence: "Looking every bit a star, Knightley, who's shown more spirit than acting smarts so far in her career really steps up to the plate here".
He regarded her "luminous strength" to be reminiscent of a young Audrey Hepburn.In the same year, Knightley starred as a pregnant drug addict in Gillies Mac Kinnon's drama film Pure.