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Keira Knightley Agrees the Atonement Bookshelf Sex Scene Was Her Best Ever

Photo: Focus Features

In Keira Knightley’s latest tragic-but-sexy period drama, The Aftermath, the actress plays Rachael Morgan, a melancholy British WWII survivor whose colonel husband (Jason Clarke), tasked with rebuilding the city of Hamburg, moves them both into a German widower’s (Alexander Skarsgård) gigantic mansion. Naturally, the widower is both sexy and tortured, and he and Rachael enter into a torrid affair that includes not one, but two, sexy, tortured love scenes.

Vulture caught up with Knightley at last night’s screening of the film at the Whitby Hotel, and learned that the inspiration for these sex scenes came from the OG of Great Keira Knightley Tragic Period Drama Sex Scenes: Atonement. “The best sex scene I’ve done onscreen is the one in Atonement, on the bookshelf,” said Knightley. “It was both the best sex scene, but also [the best] to shoot.” What made it so great, she explained, was the fact that director Joe Wright “choreographed the scene within an inch of its life. It was absolutely, ‘Foot goes up there, hand goes up there. So both me and James [McAvoy] felt utterly comfortable and not exposed, and like we could deal with it. It’s never gonna be fun, but we could deal with it.”

Years later, when Knightley went on to film the sex scenes in The Aftermath, she requested the very same treatment from director James Kent. “What never helps is when a director goes, ‘Oh, you guys know what you’re doing.’ [And you’re like], ‘Uh, I’ve never met this person, I have no idea what I’m doing in this room full of men,’” she laughed. “With sex scenes in particular, it always has to be choreographed like a dance. So with James [Kent], I was like, ‘You’re the director, you know what you want from this, so you have to just tell us. And everyone will feel comfortable.’”

Kent told Vulture that Knightley’s request completely changed the way he’ll direct sex scenes moving forward. “Keira asked me to narrate — [she said] otherwise, you’re too conscious that we’re doing it. But if you narrate, it takes the awkwardness out of it, it becomes technical.’”

How does he figure out the specific sex choreography? “Well, I’ve sort of done it myself,” he laughed. “Just once!”

Keira Knightley Agrees the Atonement Sex Scene Was Her Best