Some thoughts on the two ending scenes with Kiera Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about this every since I saw Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales last Wednesday. I was skeptical about going and how good it was going to be, but I really really loved it. It was laugh out loud funny at so many points! I haven’t laughed that loud at a movie in ages. The casting of Henry Turner was great, I loved Carina as a character, Captain Jack Sparrow was his usual self, and the special effects were as spooky as ever. Well done all around.
I had heard a rumour that Kiera Knightly was going to be coming back for a post credits or end scene so I was thrilled when she appeared on screen at the last minute at the reunion scene and the cute, but also terrifying post credits scene. It just felt right. If she hadn’t shown up it would’ve cheapened the moment and made me (and I think everyone else) feel cheated as a fan.
I left the theatre happy, but when I got home I realized there was something a miss with how the film ended and it took me a little while to figure out what it was. And then it hit me: her dress. Throughout the movie we see all of the other characters wear either the exact same thing or a very similar thing to what we last saw them wearing: consistency. The only character who is dressed differently is Barbossa and that’s explained by the fact that he’s working for the British Navy and commands a large fleet of ships which has made him rich. Everyone else is wearing pretty much the exact same thing we last saw them in or something very similar. All the way down to Will Turner who, as another Tumbler user pointer out, is wearing literally the same outfit that he was the last several times we saw him in multiple movies. There has been no change.
And then there’s Elizabeth. The last few times we see her she is wearing pirate attire in line with her character’s story arch. The last time (prior to DMTNT) that we see her in a corset and dress is at the start of Dead Man’s Chest. After that she ditches corsets for pants, skirts, blouses, and jackets that allow her to breathe and move freely in order to sword fight and pirate more properly like everyone else around her. The last three scenes we see her in prior to DMTNT she’s wearing pants and a jacket in her role as Pirate King; a black tattered dress that looks like its been ravaged by the sea as she standing on the beach with Will; and a long billowing skirt/pants (its hard to tell), a white blouse, and caramel coloured brocade vest. Her hair is either long and down or loosely tied back and she wears no jewellery. In the last scene we see her in (in At World’s End) she is standing on a hill on the island with her son nine year old son standing next to her. He wears pirate attire and a pirate hat that is most likely hers.
Now, suddenly in DMTNT she comes over the top of that same hill wearing an outfit that is in stark contrast to what we’ve seen her in before. It is also in stark contrast to what everyone else around her is wearing. Henry and Carina are dressed in similar attire as to what we saw them last, Captain Jack Sparrow and the crew on the boat are all in the same attire that we’ve seen them in all movie, and Will is wearing the exact same outfit we’ve seen him in previously. Elizabeth is not.
She has traded the pirate attire she wore the last two movies and, it is implied, the 10 years after AWE will living on the island raising her son for full royal regalia. The kind we haven’t seen her in since The Curse of the Black Pearl. In COTBP and in DMC Elizabeth makes comments about how much she hates corsets and after that only wears them when necessary and on special occasions such as her botched wedding. Yet, here in DMTNT she’s dressed in full regalia. More ornate in fact that much of what we’ve previously seen her in. She dressed even more regally than she was when she was the Governor’s Daughter. She’s wearing a dusty rose coloured, multilayered, corseted dress with two ruby jewelled necklaces, drop earrings, and her hair is perfectly coiffed. Then in the post-credits scene her and Will and shown sleeping in an ornately decorated bedroom.
Now this is surprising and interesting for a number of reasons. First, there’s logistics and cost. The addition of Kiera Knightley to this scene was a last minute addition. As the filmmakers talk about it this article here: https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/entertainthis/2017/05/26/keira-knightley-pirates-caribbean-return-fans-demand/102201872/
Keira Knightley’s scenes were filmed and added to the nearly finished film at the last minute after fans demanded it. Early versions of the completed movie were shown to test audiences and every time when the lights would go up people would ask, “Where’s Elizabeth Swann?” The filmmakers quickly got the message that they needed to add Knightley to the story if they wanted the film to be a success. So after their polite request Knightley graciously agreed to film some pivotal scenes and the crew flew to England for a day of shooting around her schedule.
So the movie was already pretty much completed by the time Knightley was added in. She filmed two small scenes that each last less than 5 minutes each and she has no discernible lines. Consider how much it would have already cost the production to move filming to London and lock down the set for two scenes you would think that the filmmakers would be looking to save money at this point. Which they could have easily done. They could have put Knightley in similar pirate attire to what she was wearing the last few times we saw her and filmed the bedroom scene in a more cottage room like setting. This would have saved the filmmakers a lot of money, time, and would have keep everything consistent and wrapped all of the lose ends nicely as with all of the other characters.
Instead, they move the entire production to London for a day, locked down the set, paid the costume department to create a custom made multilayered ornate corseted gown with accompanying jewellery all for one scene that lasted less than five minutes. The question we are left with is why? To make these changes would have costed more money and more time and doing all of these things was already outside the planned budget and scope of work for the movie and it raises more questions than answers when this was supposed to be the final adventure. The hopeful answer that comes to mind is that if everyone agrees there are going to make a sixth movie as was previously reported when it was said they were filming the fifth and sixth back to back. My theory is that they only filmed the fifth one because the CGI to make Johnny Depp look younger took over a year and thereby lengthened production time.
There are also a number of interesting possibilities as to why Elizabeth is wearing such an lavish outfit and why she is living in such an ornate house. There are three possible scenarios given what we know. One, she realized that the curse had been broken and Will was coming home, perhaps because something happened to the heart in the chest (maybe it disappeared?) and decided to dress up for when she went to meet him for the first time in several years for his homecoming and when she saw the sky changed and ships on the horizon she came running up the hill to meet him. Now the other three reasons have to do with why she’s worn that kind of attire in the past. She’s worn that kind of attire for three reasons in the past: to help her seduce the men around to into getting what she needs (usually to help out Will or Jack); for a special occasion (such as her Wedding or a hanging); and in her role as the Governor’s Daughter.
Since she’s stuck on this island because she’s guarding Will’s heart and can’t leave because something might happen to it if she does that and that would kill him and most of her dealings with having to seduce men for her own goals were with pirates and British Navy neither of which seem to have had ongoing consistent contact with the island that seems rather unlikely. The second hypothesis, that she was at or on her way to a special event is plausible, but also not very likely. The reunion scene happens mid-day so unless this was afternoon wedding and she got dressed earlier this doesn’t seem very likely, though it is possible. It also does nothing to explain how she suddenly came into such a large sum of money as to afford such attire and a house to match.
The third explanation is my favourite, the one I’m rooting for, and the one I think is the most likely. The third explanation is that at some point since the last time we saw Elizabeth 10 years after AWE she’s acquired a more prominent role in governing the affairs of the island and as a result is dressing even more ornately than the Governor’s Daughter because she is in fact the Governor, the Mayor, the Leader of this island. I like this explanation the most because it checks all the boxes, makes the most sense with Elizabeth’s journey and character arch, and is the most badass. I also think it helps explain why she’s come into a large sum of money and why Henry doesn’t mention her change in status when asked about her.
Prior to Henry leaving for the Navy she’s stuck on this island and doesn’t want to put her son in any danger. But once he grows older, probably around 14 or 15, and decides to jump ships and then join the Navy to find Captain Jack Sparrow and find the Trident of Poseidon, and free Will she’s left on the island alone and no longer has to worry about protecting him and how her actions on the island will negatively impact him. She knows he’s going to be putting himself in harms way, but unlike Will who tries to stop him, knows she can’t stop him from following his heart and going just like they did. She gives him her blessing, makes him promise to write often, and lets him go find his own adventure. She can’t but that doesn’t mean she wants him to waste away on this god forsaken chunk of rock in contrast to Will who doesn’t want him to waste his life as a pirate. They both want what’s best for him in different ways.
So after Henry goes off to join the Navy and free his father something happens on the island. There are a number of possibilities here. Perhaps the town’s leader died unexpectedly and Elizabeth steeped up. Perhaps the town’s leadership was lost at sea and someone needed to fill in. Or perhaps Elizabeth had not been happy with how things were run for quite some time, but waited until Henry left to stage a mutiny with all of the townspeople that she’d secretly been training of swordsmanship using everything Will had taught her. Can’t you just see it? This also might explain where all the excess money came from. It is also possible that Elizabeth was hard on funds or simply wanted what was rightfully hers and got in touch with her pirate contacts in South China Sea and asked them to retrieve the Swann family fortune her father left behind. Perhaps she put in that request earlier and it took a while for the money and possessions to reach her or perhaps she waited to get involved with such an undertaking until Henry had left so as to protect him and not come across as a total hypocrite and openly contradict the wishes of Will as a father.
It is also implied by Henry’s comments and lack thereof that Elizabeth’s change of status on the island occurred after he left in his mid teens to join the Navy because at no time does he mention a change or a new title not even when Captain Jack Sparrow pries him for information. My conclusion is that in the 5 to 8 year gap between now and when we last saw her Elizabeth has come into a great deal of money, is now dressing in regalia on a regular basis, and has achieved a higher position of status on the island than she had previously. These are my ideas. I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts!