Keira Knightley : “If I had to spend a day with the Queen, it would be in her wine cellar!”

Before the age of twenty, she was already on the cover of the world’s most prestigious magazines. Today, the former heroine of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ continues her charm offensive as Chanel’s stunning brand ambassador.


The pampered princess and ultimate embodiment of luxury has not broken with her working class past though. She proves it in this interview, which also provided an opportunity to talk about her latest film, ‘The Imitation Game’, where she plays a code-breaker. Not dress code but the codes used by the Nazis during the Second World War. The film tells the story of Alan Turing, the father of computer technology, who played a major part in research into the cryptography produced by the Enigma machine used by the Nazis during the Second World War. His discovery is believed to have shortened the war by two years, thereby saving over 14 million lives. In 1952, Turing, who was a homosexual, was involved in a sinister story when he chose chemical castration and oestrogen medication rather than go to prison. Two years later, he was found dead in his home from cyanide poisoning. It wasn’t until 2013 that he was posthumously pardoned by Queen Elizabeth who offered her apologies…


On a more light-hearted note, our meeting also gave us a chance to talk about wine, a drink that Keira is particularly articulate about…


What surprised you most in the script of ‘The Imitation Game’? I would imagine that like many young British people, you weren’t familiar with Alan Turing’s story.


Five years ago, I read some articles about him and what happened to him. I remember at the time, there was significant pressure for him to be rehabilitated. This was the first time I’d heard about him and I have to say that I was shocked by his story, what he’d managed to achieve and his tragic end. I thought to myself: “If ever there’s a film about this tragedy, I want to be in it!” Even though I had no idea of the female part I could be given! (laughs) A little while later, I found out quite by chance that there was going to be a film. When I discovered that Benedict Cumberbatch was going to be starring in it, I was immediately interested. It was important to tell the story. The whole project had a single-minded objective: to bring attention to Alan Turing, pay tribute to him and give him the credit he deserved for his achievements…


You star as Joan Clark, a brilliant young mathematician who would help Alan Turing put an end to the war in utmost secrecy. If we gave you, here and now, a crossword from The New York Times or the London Times, reputed to be the hardest in the world, how long would it take you to solve it?


Years! (laughs) On the set all of us tried. We bought the Guardian Quick Crossword for example. The whole team got together for a laugh and for three days we tried to solve the crosswords that Turing could solve. It was so complicated and tough that ultimately we all threw in the towel! And I won’t even go into the encrypted version!


So maths isn’t your thing then?

Uh no! After reading Alan Turing’s biography, I spent two weeks desperately trying to understand his work. I surfed the internet for hours and hours, convincing myself that I was bound to get it eventually if I looked hard enough.


Do you often go on Google?

Yes! Especially to look up things about wine. The other day, for example, I read an article about wine diseases. There was this word, ‘acescence’. As I love to learn, I did some searches and found out that it was a disease causing a sour taste in wines.


What type of wines do you own or like to taste?

I don’t have a blinkered vision of wine. I’m not one of these people who only buys one type of wine. I tend to trust my wine merchant but steer clear of so-called specialists or ‘insiders’ who try and make you buy very expensive wines just to prove to you that they have plenty of disposable income. God, what snobs! One day, I went to the liquor department in a supermarket where they were doing a special offer on Bordeaux. If I remember rightly, the bottle cost the equivalent of 10 dollars. When I got home, I uncorked my ‘investment’. Absolute heaven. I went back to the supermarket post haste – the whole lot had been sold!


So are you wary of labels?   

Exactly! Wine is like fashion. I remember the premiere of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, in 2003. I just couldn’t find a dress I liked. I was really stuck and got so fed up that I walked up the red carpet in a pair of frayed jeans and a white Valentino top showing my tummy button and my sides!


If you had to spend a day with the Queen, where would it be?

In her wine cellar, why not? It must be a magical place! Exceptional! I would image it’s highly guarded. If it isn’t, let me know, I’ll try my hardest to crack the code on the padlock! (laughs)


What attracted you to your husband when you first set eyes on him?

I can’t remember. I was drunk! (laughs)


Interview by Frank Rousseau