WCW: Lily James


Question: is Lily James the new Keira Knightley? Discuss. I’m not sure if she is, but she’s certainly one of our current lead-actress-in-anything-costumey, and I definitely find her less annoying, so, yay! Let’s take a look at James’ historical costume movie and TV work:


Wrath of the Titans (2012)

Okay, so it’s more fantasy/action than historical, but I’m thorough! Lily plays Korrina, a female soldier from Argos, backing up Rosamund Pike as Andromeda.

2012 Wrath of the Titans

There’s James, in back (red arrow).


Downton Abbey (2012-15)

We lost Sybil, so instead we got Rose — niece? 4th-cousin twice removed? of the Crawley family. She started off frizzy haired and flighty, and over time became elegant and sophisticated.

2010-15 Downton Abbey season 4

So young! Such a big hat!

2012-15 Downton Abbey

Remember Crazy-Haired Rose?

2012-15 Downton Abbey

They grow up so fast!

2012-15 Downton Abbey

Perfect curls!

Downton Abbey

Very Juliet-esque!

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2015)

As Elizabeth Bennet in the not-half-bad zombie version.

2016 Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

There’s still letters and waiting…

2016 Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

And boys…

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2015)

But also zombie slicing!


The Exception (2016)

We tracked this one for a while, and then it came and went! According to Wikipedia, “The plot is a fictionalized account of the last few days in the life of exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II, where a German soldier tries to determine if the Dutch resistance has planted a spy to infiltrate the Kaiser’s home in the Netherlands during the onset of World War II, but falls for a young Jewish Dutch woman (Lily James) during his investigation.” It actually got decent reviews, not sure why it was so low profile!

2016 The Exception 2016 The Exception 2016 The Exception


War & Peace (2016)

As manic pixie Russian dream girl Natasha during the Napoleonic War. She had bad hair and an overbite for far too long, but she didn’t annoy me as much as Clémence Poesy did in the 2007 version, so that’s something?

2016 War and Peace

Oh the BANGS!

2016 War and Peace

She grows up just in time to make bad decisions!

2016 War & Peace

Is it 1910s or 1810s? Who knows!


Darkest Hour (2017)

A small role as Winston Churchill’s secretary.

2017 Darkest Hour

Smart 1940s business attire!

2017 Darkest Hour

Hard at work?


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)

Coming very very soon in the U.K., no U.S. release date yet! James plays a writer who writes about the island of Guernsey during World War II.

2018 The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society



What’s your favorite Lily James historical costume movie or TV role?

19 Responses

  1. Bronwyn M Benson

    She is sort of the new Keira Knightley, isn’t she? She is less annoying, but I still don’t really like her. She’s fine. I am excited for the Guernsey movie, though, but not because of her.

  2. Emissary of Wind

    So Cinderella isn’t historical enough to make the list?

  3. elizacameron

    She annoys me less than Keira Knightly probably because she’s been cast more appropriately. Personally, I felt that Keira Knightly was often cast in roles that she was either too young for or didn’t have the gravitas to carry off such as Lara in Dr. Zhivago or Anna in Anna Karenina.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Ditto – Lily James is kind of a lightweight BUT she’s gotten pretty lightweight roles, so I’m fine with that. Keira Knightly (or her agent?) keeps thinking she’s suited for Serious Acting Roles & no, no, no, I just can’t stand her in them.

  4. Melanie

    I like Keira sometimes, and I agree that Lily James seems to be the new “let’s cast her in EVERY period drama” actress, but IMO she’s a much more expressive actress, even in her relatively lightweight roles. Keira’s delivery falls flat too much–at least it did in her early career. Lily doesn’t have much gravity thus yet, but she’s charming in almost everything she does.

    Also, I can’t agree that Natasha is a Manic Pixie Dream girl! She has some of the characteristics in her relationships with Andre and Pierre, but she also has her own unique character arc. Even though she’s largely a love interest (or a symbol for Russia, or whatever), she largely drives her own narrative–her desires and mistakes are driving forces. Horrible costumes/bangs/overbite aside, I love this adaptation of War & Peace. Natasha is a heck of a difficult character to play and I think Lily James does admirably, as good as any young actress could have done it. I still need to see the old Russian adaptation…

    • Janette

      Natasha Rostova is one of my favourite fictional characters. War and Peace (1972 BBC) was the first TV I really watched when we got television. I was about 11 at the time so Natasha was I guess the character I related to most. I read the book the following year, and have re read it many times since. So the actress who played Natasha in that series, Morag Hood is “my Natasha”. I recommend the series if you ever get the chance to watch it. The actors playing Pierre and Andrei are too old for the roles but are fine actors. The costumes really show up the recent version, though I am not sure about the gold and silver ball dresses. (certainly not as described in the book.)

      • Melanie

        Is that the one with Anthony Hopkins? Thanks, I’ll check it out!

        Out of curiosity, did Natasha changing and becoming conventional at the end of novel bother you like it did me?

        • Kate D

          I loved the ending of War and Peace for Natasha. Granted, I read the book while pregnant, so her maternal instincts at the end may have connected with me especially.

          I got the impression that Tolstoy saw her at the end as more spiritually beautiful, after she had been youthfully attractive before.

          There was a line earlier in the book about how Natasha was not strikingly beautiful, but when you saw her sing you thought she was lovely, and at the end there was a parallel line about how when you saw her with her children you saw her true beauty.

          I just read the book last year and loved it, though Anna Karenina is still my favorite.

          • Melanie

            That’s a good perspective on Natasha! I’ll keep it in mind next time I read the book. Anna Karenina is just astounding–it’s my favorite too.

    • SarahV

      Agreed. I sometimes think that 40’s fashion can look ugly to our modern eyes (the structure of the clothes looks odd, I think) but those costumes were quite sharp and lovely.

  5. Allie

    Not historical, but you can see Lily’s great acting chops in 2015’s Cinderella.

  6. Lisa

    I love her! I didn’t like her character in Downton Abbey (not as good as Sybil!) But she’s my favorite Eliza Bennet and Sam Riley is my favorite Darcy even if Pride and Prejudice and zombies spoof movie. I kinda wish Emma Watson had played Cinderella (she was offered the part) and that Lily played Belle, because she has more charm and can actually sing.

    • Hazel Nolan

      Well,Disney wants the heroines in their life action remakes to look like their animated versions,so Emma Watson wouldn’t have made a good cinderella. Besides,Lily James being cast as Cinderella practically opened the door for her into major films.

  7. Damnitz

    “Question: is Lily James the new Keira Knightley? Discuss. ”
    I don’t think that she is so bad.

    We should hope that she will not suffer to become such a victim of misappointments.