She has also appeared in a variety of other genres, including the romantic comedy Love Actually (2003), as Guinevere in the historical action King Arthur (2004), the psychological thriller The Jacket (2005), biographical action Domino (2005), the historical drama The Edge of Love (2008), the film noir London Boulevard (2010), the dystopian science fiction Never Let Me Go (2010), the romantic drama Last Night (2010), and the dark comedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012).In its 2008 list, Forbes identified Knightley as the second-highest-paid actress in Hollywood, with reported earnings of US$32 million in 2007, making her the only non-American on the list of highest-paid actresses that year.In 2014, she was nominated for a Golden Globe, a SAG, a BAFTA Award, and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the historical thriller The Imitation Game.

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At six it was noticed that she was dyslexic but by eleven, with her parents' support and much tuition, Knightley says "they deemed me to have got over it sufficiently", though she is still a slow reader and can not sight-read.

After getting an agent at six, Knightley worked mostly in commercials and small TV roles.

Her first role was "Little Girl" in Royal Celebration, a 1993 TV film.

A year later, she had a small role in the film A Village Affair.

She began acting as a child on television and made her film debut in 1995.

She had a supporting role as Sabé in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) and her first significant role came in the psychological horror film The Hole (2001).

She gained widespread recognition in 2002 after co-starring in the film Bend It Like Beckham and achieved international fame in 2003 after appearing as Elizabeth Swann in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series.

Knightley became known for starring in period dramas such as Pride & Prejudice (2005), for which she earned nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress; Atonement (2007), for which she was nominated again for a Golden Globe; Silk (2007); The Duchess (2008); A Dangerous Method (2011); and Anna Karenina (2012).

She later starred in 1995's Innocent Lies and 1998's Coming Home.