Knightley, along with American screen star Elisabeth Moss, aka the lascivious Peggy Olson in TV’s Mad Men - will star as teachers at a girls’ boarding school in the new production, directed by Ian Rickson. Knightley returns to the Comedy Theatre where she made her Olivier-nominated stage debut last December in The Misanthrope.
In the play, the teachers are accused by a disgruntled student of having a lesbian relationship - an accusation that subsequently ruins the women's careers and lives.
The Children's Hour was last produced in London by the National Theatre in 1994 in a production. Lillian Hellman’s other plays include The Dark Angel, Watch on the Rhine, The Autumn Garden and, her best-known work, The Little Foxes, which was also made into a 1941 film starring Bette Davis.
The Children's Hour will be the first new production for former Royal Court artistic director Ian Rickson since his success with Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem, which transferred to the West End at the start of this year after premiering at the Royal Court last autumn. It picked up Best New Play awards at this past year’s Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle and Whatsonstage.com Awards and is Broadway-bound next year.
Knightley made her professional stage debut in The Misanthrope, starring alongside Damian Lewis, and was nominated for an Olivier for Best Supporting Actress for her performance. She’s become a household name internationally for the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy as well as films including Atonement, The Duchess, The Edge of Love, Domino, The Jacket, Love Actually, Bend It Like Beckham and Never Let Me Go.
Moss, who will make her West End debut in The Children’s Hour, has received both Emmy and SAG Award nominations for her role in television series Mad Men and is also well known for having played the role of Zoe Bartlett in The West Wing. She made her Broadway debut in the 2008 production of David Mamet’s Speed the Plow.
There have been rumours that the The Children's Hour, which is produced in the West End by Sonia Friedman Productions and Scott Landis, will transfer to Broadway if the London run is successful. The New York Times has speculated that this would happen in the Autumn of 2011 at the earliest, with both of the show's stars engaged for other projects over the summer months, Knightley working on a film and Moss expected to be filming the fifth season of Mad Men.