After having appeared in such roles in a spate of television films through the mid-to-late 1990s, including Innocent Lies (1995), The Treasure Seekers (1996), Coming Home (1998), and Oliver Twist (1999), Knightley landed the role of Sabé, Padmé Amidala's handmaiden and decoy, in the 1999 science fiction blockbuster Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.

Her dialogue was dubbed over by Natalie Portman, who played Padmé.

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

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Her first on-screen appearance was in the 1993 television film, Royal Celebration.

She then played Natasha Jordan, a young girl whose mother is involved in an extramarital affair, in the romantic drama A Village Affair (1995).

1 on the box-office, and went to become one of the highest grossing productions of the year, with the worldwide collections of $654 million.

Although the film garnered unfavorable reviews, Knightley's stature as a performer grew; she was voted by the readers of Hello magazine as the industry's most promising teen star ahead of Scarlett Johansson, In a mixed review for Empire, Kim Newman wrote that the role was unlike the ones that Knighley had previously taken up : "Knightley, getting out of period gear and talking American, tries to broaden her range and is arguably well-cast".

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.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 October 2015, Knightley made her Broadway debut in the title role of Thérèse Raquin.At the age of six, she was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia but by the time she was eleven, with her parents' support and much tuition, Knightley said: "they deemed me to have got over dyslexia sufficiently". After getting an agent at the age of six, Knightley began working in commercials and small television roles.She next played the title character in Tony Scott's French-American action film Domino, based on the life of Domino Harvey.