Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

"This evocation of Colette in 2018 knows that its heroine will always be larger than what is on screen." | Photo: Robert Viglasky

Wash Westmoreland's Colette, co-written with Richard Glatzer (Still Alice, The Last Of Robin Hood, and Quinceañera with Westmoreland) and Rebecca Lenkiewicz (co-writer of Sebastián Lelio's Disobedience and Pawel Pawlikowski's Oscar-winner Ida), begins with 19-year-old Colette (Keira Knightley, energetic and thoughtful) in bed at her family home being awakened by sunshine and her restless cat.

This is only the first of many awakenings in a film which focuses on her early years and the marriage to Willy (Dominic West), a writer and Paris society fixture who employs a number of ghostwriters doing the work for him that he publishes under his pseudonym. Soon his wife will be one of them.

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He convinces her, lacking his usual charm, by locking her in a room and telling her to put words to paper. The outcome is unforeseen. The Claudine stories, based on Colette's childhood, become a gigantic success. For Willy. His rampant infidelities are juxtaposed with Colette's curiosity. When she meets Mathilde de Moray (Denise Gough), who goes by the name Missy and wears men's clothes, a new bond is formed, one that relies less on exploitation.

We can read Missy's thoughts in just a tilt of his head or the way he feels utterly comfortable in his suit and tie. Dickie Beau as the famous mime Wague, who wove in and out of Colette's life, and had great importance for her career change, resurrects a forgotten form of entertainment in front of our eyes.

Colette's parents in the countryside, Robert Pugh as her father Jules and Fiona Shaw as her mother Sido, are personalities in their own right, not just caricatures that help the plot along. Especially Shaw inserts great dashing into the smallest acts, such as slicing courgettes.

Ultimately, it is Knightley's film and there seems to be a double-layer in her performance. Costume designer Andrea Flesch provides Colette with intricate lovely belle époque outfits and there is a sense of joyous celebration throughout - which is no small feat considering the fact that a lot of what we see deals with oppression, betrayal, and an attempt at ownership.

Dominic West manages to balance Willy's charm with his fiendishness. Were he any more monstrous, we couldn't understand why she stayed in the first place. He forced her to write, she obeyed, masterful literature was born. The narrative is more entangled than that.

This evocation of Colette in 2018 knows that its heroine will always be larger than what is on screen - which makes this beautiful portrayal of a very important writer such a pleasure to watch.

In the middle of the 20th century, Hollywood produced Vincente Minnelli's Gigi, starring Leslie Caron, and even then the subversive sparks could not be contained by adding a patronizing, lecherous framing device that has Maurice Chevalier praise in song the heavens for inventing little girls for the amusement of little boys.

Colette's life and work was a marvel of complexity and this is a chance to have a new generation discover her.

Reviewed on: 09 Oct 2018
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The story of author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette's rise to fame.
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Director: Wash Westmoreland

Writer: Richard Glatzer, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Wash Westmoreland

Starring: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Denise Gough, Fiona Shaw, Arabella Weir, Aiysha Hart, Robert Pugh, Ray Panthaki, Eleanor Tomlinson, Caroline Boulton, Shannon Tarbet, Karen Gagnon, Attila C. Arpa, Janine Harouni, Máté Haumann

Year: 2018

Runtime: 111 minutes

Country: UK, US, Hungary

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