Keira Knightley and Dominic West both give some of their finest performances in “Colette,” a period drama, which tries and fails to hold its anger on anti-feminism during the dawn of the modern age.
Actually, the woman wanting to share her voice is Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954), who has written stories about her personal life, whereas her author husband Henry Gauthier-Villars, A.K.A. Willy (1859-1931) embellished them as entertainment for men. Director Wash Westmoreland (“Still Alice”) does a nice job telling this story.
The film introduces us to Colette (Knightley) and Willy, in their early years as man and wife. She is a country girl, and he is a city boy; and they reside in Paris. His publishing business is hitting hard times, and he needs a fresh story. So he tells his wife to write him some stories, based the letters she has written in her youth. She writes them with honesty, but he forces her to remove its feminism, for the sake of entertainment. The books become successful, and Willy takes the credit, saying all these books are his.
The stuff she writes is based on the affairs both she and Willy engage in. For example, she has an affairs with a rich Louisiana girl named Georgie (Eleanor Tomlinson), as does Willy; and later, she falls for an artist named Missy (Denise Gough).
The main character she writes is Claudine, and Willy wants more from her. And when she refuses, he locks her in her room, and forces her to write more.
But that’s not all, when a few woman, like Polaire (Aiysha Hart), claim to be the real Claudine, Willy makes her look like the real one, with her hairstyles, of course.
The more writing and changes Colette makes, the angrier she gets.
A lot goes on in “Colette,” like affairs and Lesbianism, and it does go on a little long with those elements. But aside from that, I was more focused on the writing Colette grows tired of, and how her husband forces her to. Knightley and West are both fantastic in their own ways of introducing people to these characters. Even I haven’t heard of these two, and I became intrigued.
The movie is also sexy, smart, and gorgeous. It has beautiful love scenes, immaculate costumes, representing their time periods, and such excellent France locations, even if the film was filmed in London and Hungary.
The looks aren’t just the spotlight; it’s the fight against anti-feminism that rattles your nerves. Throughout the movie, you’re rooting for Colette to be a smart woman, and she is. This may have been a true story, but you still have to do it.