Colette: LFF Film Review

Keira Knightley is the queen of period dramas and some might sigh at her doing another one, but Colette is different. It is one of the best period dramas I have seen in recent memory and Knightley was perfect for it.

She plays the French novelist Gabrielle-Sidonie Colette in this biographical drama, which focuses on her marriage to literary entrepreneur Willy (Dominic West). He is having money problems, paying writers for their work but not getting much back, so he suggests Colette becomes one of his writers. She pens a novel about her school years, calling herself Claudine, and it becomes a sensation once it’s published under Willy’s name. The French public want more, so he forces her to write more Claudine stories, which go on to become a successful series, spawning merchandise, hair crazes etc. Eventually Colette, who is also interested in women, including Georgie (Eleanor Tomlinson) and Missy (Denise Gough), gets fed up of not receiving the credit and of her husband.

From plot summaries I had read, I assumed Colette would focus on her fight to prove she was the true author, and the plot was heading in that direction, for a proper showdown with her husband over it, when the film ended, explaining all the fight stuff in the text before the credits. It is a little niggle, but I would have liked this to have been shown in the actual movie, whereas it chose to focus on her marriage, for the most part.

Colette is my kind of woman. She is feisty, she wants to earn her own money, and she doesn’t want to sit at her home while her husband has all the fun. That’s pretty bold for a woman in the late 1800s, early 1900s. Knightley was perfectly cast as Colette and absolutely magnetic onscreen. She really seemed to enjoy her role and it was a joy to watch her excellent performance. I also want to highlight Colette’s wardrobe and hair, which was gorgeous, and praise the cast for not attempting French accents.

She is equally matched by West, who is so charming he tries to talk himself out of anything – from infidelity to his debt problems – and they are electric when they’re onscreen together. Also, he gets some cracking lines of dialogue – he made me laugh a lot with his frank nature. I loved their cheeky, playful chemistry and the dynamic and dialogue between them. Tomlinson wasn’t in it as much as I expected but Gough played an intriguing character way before her time – she is female but she identifies and dresses like a man, making the film feel quite contemporary.

Period dramas can often be viewed as stuffy, slow and dry romance pieces, but Wash Westmoreland’s Colette is full of life and tells such a captivating story. Knightley has never been better.

Seen as part of the 2018 BFI London Film Festival. Set for release on 25 January 2019 

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