Director: Wash Westmoreland
Starring: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Eleanor Tomlinson, Denise Gough, Aiysha Hart
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette – AKA “Colette” - was one of the most famous and celebrated French writers of the late 1800s and early 1900s, a time when women were to be seen and not heard, or in this case, read and not seen. Her Claudine novels (racy tales of love and lust) became a phenomenon in France at the time, though her husband’s firm insistence they be published under his name stoked the repressed fires within Colette, leading to her revolt and eventual triumph over the patriarchy.
Colette is very much the story of empowerment against social tyranny, and a timely reminder of just how far women’s and LGBTQ rights have come – though we still have a way to go. Colette herself left her small town for the bright lights and opportunities that Paris offered and to be with her husband/author Henry Gauthier-Villars – otherwise known as Willy – but quickly learns of the sexist and moral boundaries that are rife within the circles Willy moves within. Keira Knightley’s portrayal of Colette is superb – silently seething but never losing sight of her intelligence and poise as she fights back against the system, delivering some highly satisfying moments as she does. As Willy, West is charming yet sinister, always looking for his next lay. He infuriates us by locking Colette in a room to write and by sleeping around, yet is equally pathetic when things don’t go his way. It’s another good performance to include alongside Eleanor Tomlinson and an excellent Denise Gough as Mathilde de Morny — AKA Missy, a cross-dressing aristocrat.
There’s a nice pace throughout that pairs well with the equally nice visuals and drama – everything feels classy but not stuffy (thankfully). The sex/love scenes are handled well without smut and the decent dialogue makes the period flirting sound devilishly saucy. Elements of the dialogue felt heavy-handed, almost as if we weren’t fully aware of the importance of Colette’s story and her fight, therefore we needed to be reminded with an unsubtle line or shout. Some just sound…childishly odd, i.e. when Willy says to Colette, “Put your hand in my pocket, there’s something there…” to which she exclaims, “Willy!?”…ah, juvenile chuckles. Elsewhere, Colette has some good humour and lovely comeuppances without ever being too predictable. This is a story of one woman creating her own legacy and path, not a caricature that needed a big, OTT ending to satisfy the audience.
The story of the first French author to be granted a state funeral required an excellent movie to do it justice. The timeliness of its release is welcome and is another celebration of female empowerment which overall is very good. Colette is certainly very good but falls short of being excellent. Everything is effective, executed proficiently and the performances are wonderful, however, the movie succeeds by doing everything it needs to competently without ever fully sparkling. Still, a worthy watch for a worthy woman.
January 3rd 2019