Just about ten years ago now (2002 to be precise), Keira Knightley and her class 3 jaw were thrust upon us in Bend It Like Beckham. What followed has been a juggernaut of a career. I keep expecting her to burn out or fade away and yet, year after year, awards season after awards season, she shows up. Listen, despite her orthodontia issues, she’s undeniably beautiful. She is also, truth be told, not even remotely the worst actress out there. But you know what else she is? Un-f*cking-spectacular. Not worth the muss, the fuss and certainly not my choice to play the lead in seemingly every literary adaptation to come down the pike. Seriously, this is the best we can do for Elizabeth Bennett, Cecilia Tallis, Lara Antipova and Anna Bloody Karenina? Enough. I’ve had enough. Please, Hollywood, for the love all things bright and beautiful, stop.
Well, help is on the horizon. We’ve already got one bonafide British “It Girl” in the ubiquitous Carey Mulligan. She mercifully beat out Knightley for the role of Daisy Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby adaptation and can be seen this year getting thoroughly Gosling’d and Fassbendered in Drive and Shame. Similarly, the young British actress Felicity Jones has caused quite a stir with her Sundance hit Like Crazy (opening this weekend). Jones won the Sundance Special Jury Prize for Acting (an award they don’t always give out…hence the special) and the buzz around her is similar to the one that has been clinging to Ms. Mulligan since An Education premiered. So in addition to those twin beacons of talent, I bring you this list of promising British actresses (established and up and coming) who I would like to see replace Keira. I mean it, casting agents, call every single woman on this list before you call that Knightley woman again.
Hayley Atwell: Perhaps best-known for this year’s Captain America, Atwell has paid her dues in British costume dramas and mini-series. She’s played iconic literary figures (Julia Flyte, Brideshead Revisited) and, in fact, stole the show from Keira in 2008’s The Duchess as Ralph Fiennes vivacious mistress, Bess Foster. Atwell will next appear as a femme fatale opposite Gabrielle Byrne in the noir-ish I, Anna.
Emma Watson: Okay, listen, truth be told, I’m not sold on Emma Watson. Miss Acts With Her Eyebrows Granger here may be the hottest commodity that side of the pond, but I’ve yet to see anything truly extraordinary from her. Well, I’ve yet to see anything other than Hermione Granger from her. That being said, I’m keeping an open mind and will be looking closely at her performances in My Week With Marilyn and The Perks Of Being A Wallflower.
Claire Foy: I’m not certain exactly what’s going on with Claire Foy’s career. She was phenomenal in 2008’s “Little Dorrit” and has been sort of loitering in British TV-land ever since. Barring, of course, Season of the Witch. But that doesn’t really count, does it? She’s fantastic, keep an eye out for her.
Romola Garai: Garai has been around just as long as Keira. She’s been both a mainstay of BBC mini-series (“Daniel Deronda,” “Emma”) and the star of an unfortunate 80’s remake before unfortunate 80’s remakes were cool (Dirty Dancing Havana Nights). I never really loved Garai as much as she seemed to love herself, but I enjoyed her immensely in this year’s “The Hour” and think she’s maturing into her talent.
Kelly MacDonald: Kelly has, of course, been around even longer than Keira and Romola. Busting onto the scene in 1996’s Trainspotting she flew relatively under the radar until 2001’s Gosford Park. She has since been killing it on both TV (“State Of Play”) and film (No Country For Old Men). I’ve heard great things about her work on “Boardwalk Empire” and look forward to her stealing Knightley’s thunder in Anna Karenina.
Carey Mulligan: Aforementioned “It Girl,” Daisy Buchannan, and Sally Sparrow. The sexiest thing I’ve seen all year? Mulligan and Gosling smiling shyly at each other in Drive. See it. You won’t be sorry.
Karen Gillan: I really couldn’t make this list without our Amelia Pond, but I can’t compliment her on much other than her looks. We’ll have to see how she does post-“Doctor Who.”
Michelle Ryan: I love Ryan and I can’t quite explain why. Best known over here for the failed “Bionic Woman” series, I can only hope her film Cockneys vs. Zombies is half as good as its title.
Keeley Hawes: Hawes is who I wish Keira had grown up to be. Grounded, and serene and in possession of a sizable amount of gravitas. She’s also married to Mr. Darcy. (No, not the best one, the other one.) I’m not certain why Hawes hasn’t broken out into film yet, Death At A Funeral being her only movie of note. Ah, well, I’ll have to content myself with reruns of “Spooks” and “Ashes To Ashes.”
Felicity Jones: Aforementioned proto-It Girl. Jones first caught my eye in a BBC adaptation of “Northanger Abbey.” Although it’s one of Jane Austen’s weaker books, Jones’s fresh-faced vivacity was infectious enough that I didn’t mind. She also stood out as a young rival to Michelle Pfeiffer in Chéri. I’m fully on board with this buzz.
Emily Blunt: One of the more likable and engaging actresses working today. I honestly believe she can do anything. I’m as excited about her upcoming romantic comedy with Jason Segel (The Five Year Engagement) as I am about the futuristic thriller with JGL (Looper).
Gemma Arterton: She made a lovely Tess of the D’urbervilles, a delicious Bond Girl and then decided to appear in any script that passed her desk. But now that she’s got the Prince of Persias and Clash of The Titans out of her system, I look forward to her future films. Yes even that very odd Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters project.
Rebecca Hall: I rather like that Hall’s hair is always messy. I thought she was lovely in The Town, heartbreaking in The Prestige and cute as hell in Starter for Ten. Call her, Hollywood. Call her early and call her often.
So, do me a favor Keira, listen to Sheriff Rick Grimes. He speaks the truth.