LONDON - Critics were sharply divided on Friday over Hollywood star Keira Knightley's London stage debut, with one calling her "strikingly convincing" and another accusing her of "having all the charisma of a goldfish."
The 24-year-old "Pirates of the Caribbean" star was playing an American movie star in an updated production of Moliere's 17th Century classic satire "The Misanthrope."
She had said before Thursday's opening night at the Comedy Theater that she had not been expecting great reviews.
She told the BBC: "I thought if I don't do theater right now, I think I'm going to start being too terrified to do it ... so I just thought, okay, dive in and give it a go. "If my best isn't good enough, then so be it."
In the event, the tabloid newspapers were the most scathing about her portrayal of the ambitious Jennifer, while others ranged from faint praise to wholehearted approval.
"The critical knives were unsheathed and quivering," noted The Independent.
"So it's a tonic to report that Knightley finesses all this ethical fussing by turning in a performance that is not only strikingly convincing but, at times, rather thrilling in its satiric aplomb.
"She has real stage presence and knows how to use it."
The Guardian was similarly impressed.
"Since she's playing a movie star in her 20s, one could say that she is not unduly stretched," it said.
"But Knightley brings to the role fine, sculpted features, palpable intelligence and a nice mix of faux-innocence and flirtiness. Even if she doesn't always know what to do with her hands, she gives a perfectly creditable performance."
The Daily Telegraph thought she warmed to her role opposite a famous playwright, played by another Brit made good in Hollywood, Damian Lewis, as the evening went on.
"In the early scenes Knightley seems a touch tentative, lacking in both energy and presence," it said.
"In the second half however, in which she bitchily insults a false friend and has a real humdinger of a row with the jealous Alceste (Lewis), she reveals both power and poignancy."
But the Daily Mail was not impressed.
"Keira Knightley may be one of 21st century cinema's revered objects but on stage she proves little better than adequate," its critic wrote.
"She has all the charisma of a serviceable goldfish. Miss Knightley has a flawless face but it does not move about much."
The Daily Express criticized her projection.
"Her lack of stage experience is sometimes painfully evident," it wrote. "Here there are no close-ups, no re-takes and no stopping for the make-up girl. Miss Knightley delivers her lines very clearly in an occasionally small voice."
It added of the southwest London-born star: "Her American accent is fine but too much of her acting is on one note."
The Times agreed, saying she lacked authority: "Partly the reason is physical," it said. "She's so wispy, she could fit into an umbrella stand.
"Partly it's a want of vox, partly a lack of the assurance that more time on the stage may bring her."
The play, directed by Thea Sharrock and also starring Kelly Price and Tara Fitzgerald, is due to run until March 13, 2010.