Keira Knightley's next film: an art-house short film

She is one of Hollywood's most highly paid actresses whose last major film, The Duchess, was a lavish Elizabethan drama with an estimated budget of £13.5m. But Keira Knightley's next project is a slightly more modest proposition – a short art-house film which cost just £15,000 to make.

Maze, which is only 10 minutes long, is a directorial debut for the artist Stuart Pearson Wright, who also appears with Knightley in the film. It will be shown alongside some of his paintings at London's Riflemaker gallery next month.

In the film, Knightley and Pearson Wright play Elizabethan courtiers who are lost in a maze, which is a metaphor for a relationship breaking down. The actress tries to bore her way through a hedge to get to her lover, played by the painter.

In an interview with The Independent, the 25-year-old English actress said: "I loved the idea of doing something that was purely creative, weird and wonderful, and not a commercial venture." The film marks a startling departure for Knightley, who is more often seen in big-budget movies such as Atonement and the Pirates of the Caribbean series.

She agreed to star in Pearson Wright's film for free, using a bedroom in a bed-and-breakfast near Longleat Safari Park as a dressing room during filming. She said she had no problem improvising Elizabethan dialogue or wearing a heavy dress and wig, having had practice with similarly cumbersome outfits in The Duchess.

Knightley, who met the artist in 2007, said: "Ideas were emailed and then developed at Stuart's studio over cupcakes and tea, and a film piece was decided on: a collision of our worlds."

Pearson Wright said he couldn't believe his luck when Knightley agreed to appear in his film. "The juxtaposition of a Hollywood actress in period costume with a very contemporary shooting style, being jostled about by a jumpy camera, is an incongruous and uncomfortable one," he said.

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