- Colin Fraser
FOUR STARS Colette is a hugely successful novelist tired of writing under her husband's name. It's time.
Kiera Knightly, Dominic West
PERIOD DRAMA #COLETTE
Colette was the very definition of a modern woman. A best-selling author living in a polyamorous then public, lesbian, relationship, she was a touch-stone for progressives in her time and those that followed. Her time being Paris of the Belle Époque though fame in its own right was hard won. Initially writing under the name of her first husband Willy, a publisher in need of good writers, Colette’s series of titillating semi-autobiographical novels about the unconventional upbringing of a young woman (Claudine) were a smash hit. Her entry into libertine, avant-garde society was secured. When their marriage failed, so too did financial security (Willy owned the rights to her books), leading to a provocative career on stage, a string of relationships and theatre’s first same-sex kiss. Quelle horreur!
Although Colette’s extraordinary life continued to include two further husbands, a child and a Nobel Prize nomination for Literature, COLETTE the film concentrates on the story of her early years and how she emerged from her husband’s shadow. And it’s a tremendous story. Kiera Knightly (THE IMITATION GAME) shines in the role given heart and brains and wit by writer/director Wash Westmoreland (STILL ALICE) She’s ably supported by Dominic West (PRIDE) and together they get to the heart of an enigmatic woman undeterred by convention and a husband who could afford to ignore it.
“The wild days are done, eh?” Quips one of Willy’s friends on hearing of his engagement.
“On the contrary, the wild days have just begun,” retorts Colette.
Knightly is the engine that powers Westmoreland’s dynamic film and she has never been better: energetic, captivating, invincible and vulnerable all at once. Human, you might say. And while performance is certainly the glue that binds this movie, the elements are no less appealing - Westmoreland’s portrayal of how her books became a brand that spawned an industry of product (Claudine clothes, Claudine soap, Claudine scent and so forth). As said, COLETTE is achingly modern.
It’s as if that in making COLETTE, Colette has ditched her corset to ensure everyone’s comfortable and having a good time. While the film remains seriously beautiful - it’s a period piece, right? - the seriousness of subjects like sexual liberation and female repression are given such lightness they won’t scare audiences who aren’t entirely sure they like period drama just yet. It’s thought-provoking yet funny, meaningful yet lively, unconventional yet entertaining, and utterly pleasurable throughout.