COLETTE – A Review by Cynthia Flores
Keira Knightley was born to play historical roles in old-fashioned clothing. In her new film Colette, she plays the real-life famous French novelist the film is named after. The film follows Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightly) as a young girl after marrying a successful Parisian writer known commonly as “Willy” (Dominic West) Henry Gauthier-Villars, who is a most notorious libertine and fourteen years older than her. She is transplanted from her idyllic rural childhood home in the countryside of France to the intellectual and artistic splendor of Paris in the 1900s. A time of legendary parties at salons, where she’s introduced to avant-garde intellectuals and the artistic circles her husband runs in. Quite a significant change for a quiet girl from the country to experience. Gabrielle jumps into this world head first and takes to it like a fish to water calling herself by her maiden last name Colette. Because of her husband engaging in sexual affairs, they enter into an open relationship where she’s encouraged to explore her own lesbian tendencies.
Willy used ghostwriters to keep his factory of novels and theatrical criticism work open, and all was going well until he was broke and couldn’t afford to pay his workers. That’s when he convinces Colette to take a crack at writing. Under pressure from him, she pens the semi-autobiographical novel about a brazen country girl named Claudine, sparking what would ultimately become four widely popular novels in total about the fictional girl. The books spawned merchandise carrying her name and image, plays based on the books, and a legion of fans devoted to the modern young woman portrayed on the pages of the books. Her stories helped women overcome societal constraints, revolutionizing literature, fashion, and sexual expression. As each book garnered more fame on Willy, Colette grew stronger and more autonomous from him, finally asserting her desire to have her name attached as the actual writer of the literary phenomenon of Claudine.
Along what seems like a very long film, we see Colette discover her passion for performing pantomime (a respected art form at the time) and her love for the cross-dressing Mathilde De Morne, Marquise de Belveuf who went by the name of “Missy”(Denise Gough). It is through her relationship with Missy that Colette becomes her own person and stands up to Willy, finally divorcing him.
The film reunites the producing team that gave us the 2015 lesbian drama Carol. With this biopic, they have chosen to tell another story of a woman that defied social conventions. I wonder however if the filmmakers decided to show a French story, about one of their most famous French female writers in the Queens English because that was the only way they could acquire the financial backing or was it simply the inability of their actors and actresses to do a whole film in French that colored their decision. I wouldn't mention it except for the fact that it bugged me. It was distracting to spend so much of the movie watching Colette actually write her books by hand in French while she narrated what she was writing in English.
The film Colette is beautiful to look at but just way too long and a bit boring in parts. The scenes where Colette is pursuing her pantomime acting career and doing such brazen things on stage as kissing another woman or baring one tiny breast to the audience may have been scandalous back then, but it comes off as stilted when Keira Knightley does it on screen now.
I really wanted to like this film more than I did, the actual life of the woman it’s based on was amazing and made her infamous as a literary giant of her time. The real Colette deserved much more than this over-indulgent film delivers. That’s why I’m giving it a C- rating.
Directed by Wash Westmoreland
Written By Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland, Rebecca D. Lenkiewicz
Selig Rating C-
Running Time 1hr 51min
Biography / Drama
Limited Release September 28th The Magnolia Landmark, Angelika Film Center Plano
Starring: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Georgie Raoul-Duval, Fiona Shaw, Denise Gough
The Selig Rating Scale:
A – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
B – Good movie
C – OK movie
D – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
F – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn't paid for it.