In the opening scenes of “A Dangerous Method,” we find Keira Knightley playing a young woman who is completely, utterly losing it. This is not just a “scream and smash some dishes” movie version of a breakdown, but total gibbering, thrashing, convulsing hysteria. It’s frighteningly out of control, and Knightley -so often derided in the press as just another pretty face — is so convincing, we fear she might hurt her wild-eyed self, her jaw seemingly about to burst out of her skin.

This being a David Cronenberg film, that would come as no surprise. But Cronenberg has long since moved on from the “body horror” for which he was once known — with such films as “The Fly,” “Scanners” or “Crash” — and longtime fans may be more shocked to find that “A Dangerous Method” is essentially a period drama, with elegant turn-of-the-19th-century costumes, eloquent dialogue and picaresque, perfectly-trimmed gardens that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Merchant Ivory film.

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