Review: Colette (2018)


Colette (2018)

Directed by: Wash Westmoreland | 111 minutes | biography, drama | Actors: Keira Knightley, Fiona Shaw, Dominic West, Robert Pugh, Sloan Thompson, Arabella Weir, Máté Haumann, Ray Panthaki, Al Weaver, Virág Bárány, Dickie Beau, Kylie Watt, Janine Harouni, Jake Graf, Eleanor Tomlinson, Aiysha Hart, Denise Gough

Colette (real name: Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette), born on January 29, 1873, is to this day one of the most famous French writers. She was nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948. She has become extremely popular with her four first novels about a girl Claudine, namely Claudine à l’école, Claudine à Paris, Claudine en ménage and Claudine s’en va. She was also an actress, mime and journalist. At the age of 20, she married a then-famous writer Henry Gauthier-Villars and, through him, began her career in Paris. In love, she has had lesbian relationships, including with a French noblewoman Mathilde de Morny, and relationships with men much younger than her. A recurring theme in her life and her books are women who have to fight for justice and recognition in a man’s world, a subject she herself has often been confronted with. It is clear that Colette’s life cannot simply be completely filmed. This is the conclusion that Wash Westmoreland (‘Still Alice’, ‘The Last of Robin Hood’), director and co-writer of the film ‘Colette’, drew when he wrote the script with his late partner, Richard Glatzer, wrote.

The film ‘Colette’ focuses on the early years of Colette (Keira Knightley), in which she lives in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye with her parents and starts an affair with Henry Gauthier-Villars, better known as Willy (Dominic West). At the age of 20, Willy marries Colette and takes her to Paris where a life in intellectual and artistic circles awaits her. Out of financial necessity, Willy asks her to write a book about her childhood years at school. Thus, she begins a literary career that makes her one of the most famous French writers.

Although the atmosphere of the Parisian avant-garde is well filmed in the story, the strength lies mainly in the ‘pacing’ of the story. The scenes and situations, which are part of Colette’s life, follow each other well. From the start you are swept up in an adventure in which an innocent country girl transforms like a butterfly into a welcome socialite with pure writing talent. Talent cannot be hidden and in this case too, it screams from the depths of her soul to be allowed to stand in the sun.

However, as strong as the script is, it’s worth nothing without good actors selling the story. When the script was written in 2001, Keira Knightley was only 14 years old and wasn’t the choice to play Colette. The project got a boost after the release of ‘Still Alice’ in 2014. Attention now quickly fell on Keira. According to the director, she had the personal charm and self-assurance to portray Colette in a realistic way. It is nice to see that the director has estimated this correctly, because she plays the tiles of the roof and takes you into her world where she has to fight for a voice. Of course, an actor is never alone and is well complemented by Dominic West, who in his role as the slick charming Willy, more than fulfills it by dominating the screen when needed. They are well attuned emotionally and verbally and it shows.

The role of Missy (Denise Gough), Colette’s partner, should not go unmentioned as a silent but present force that motivates Colette to claim her rightful place in the drama of her life, and as a writer. Where Willy was the gateway to Paris and its intellectual circles, Missy was the gateway to her feminine power and independence. It’s nice to see how the environment contributes to Colette’s development, albeit in a rough way at times.

Out of necessity it is not possible to film the whole life of such an interesting figure. It can therefore appear as if ‘Colette’ does not do justice to the person she was and has become. Anyway, it’s a fine film adaptation from one of France’s greatest writers. We have a very good idea of ​​her development and the struggle she has had to fight to be who she is.

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