The 'Love Actually' Keira Knightley Age Controversy, Explained

Knightley played the love interest for Andrew Lincoln, but the relative ages of the cast members were a little alarming.

If you're rewatching Love, Actually this holiday season, you may notice the bizarre age difference between stars Keira Knightley, Andrew Lincoln and Thomas Brodie-Sangster. It's no secret that women are often cast as love interests for much older men in Hollywood, but over the last few years, the facts of this dynamic have become a major talking point on social media. Here's what you need to know about this holiday drama.

Love, Actually has a huge ensemble with a few disparate storylines. Knightley and Lincoln play star-crossed lovers Juliet and Mark, a bride who realizes at the last minute that she's in love with the best man at her wedding. Meanwhile, Brodie-Sangster plays Sam, a young boy whose mother has recently passed away having his first Christmas alone with his stepfather, Daniel (Liam Neeson). What social media critics recently realized is that, while Knightley plays a grown woman in a torrid love affair and Brodie-Sangster plays an innocent child, they are actually only five years apart in age, and Knightley is actually much closer in age to Brodie-Sangster than Lincoln.

Juliet's story follows her slowly learning that Mark loves her, and processing her own feelings about him, while still reveling in her new marriage. Sam's story is about his crush on one of his classmates at school, and Daniel's attempts to connect with him by coaching him through this first romantic courtship.

Shockingly, the performers behind this new bride and innocent schoolboy were not so far apart in age. At the time of filming, Knightley was around 18 years old, while Brodie-Sangster was around 13. They both may have been a little off from the ages of the characters they were playing on-screen, but the reality had some fans horrified in retrospect. Meanwhile, Lincoln was about 30 years old – 12 years older than Knightley.

Writer Madeleine Lloyd-Jones pointed out the age gap in a viral tweet back in 2019, which got over 109,000 likes and nearly 20,000 retweets. In an accompanying blog post, she broke down more problems with the film — including Mark's "borderline stalking" behavior, which is portrayed as romantic in the film.

Since then, the casting director for Love, Actually, Fiona Weir, has actually addressed the controversy in an interview with The Messenger. She said that Knightley was quite young when everyone thought she was older than she was because she'd been acting since she was little. "She was, really strictly speaking, too young for the part. But she had this wonderful, open, joyous quality which Richard really wanted. And I think it worked, I think we believed that she was married to Chiwetel [Ejiofor] and the object of great love for Andrew Lincoln."

As for Brodie-Sangster, she said: "Thomas was a little boy who was with Liam Neeson, being Liam's son. And Keira was an adult. Sometimes, I think years are deceptive, and in her life, Keira had become an adult. So, it was very different, and their stories didn't overlap."

Commenters online have pointed out that surprising age gaps are not just restricted to romantic storylines. A big one was Brodie-Sangster's role on Game of Thrones, where he played the enigmatic Jojen Reed. While he was helping Bran trek north to find the Three-Eyed Raven, Ser Gregor Clegane (Hafthor Bjornsson) was beheading enemies in southern Westeros. It turns out that Bjornsson is only about a year and a half older than Brodie-Sangster, though the story portrayed them very differently.

To many fans, however, these were all nothing more than neat behind-the-scenes facts that did not distract from the movies themselves. Some argued that it was a testament to the actors, in some ways, that their age differences didn't impact the finished product. For others, it takes something away from the holiday magic of movies like Love Actually.