Based on the true story of author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, Colette is a young woman from the countryside that falls in love with a Parisien 14-years her senior named Willy. Once they move to Paris, she agrees to ghostwrite a semi-autobiographical novel for her husband. As her ‘Claudine’ series takes off in popularity, her confidence in her abilities and sexuality grows as she fights against her societal constraints.
Directed by Wash Westmoreland (Still Alice), Colette is a lush period drama that has full confidence in the abilities of its stars. Keira Knightley continues to play to her strengths as a confident, progressive woman who lights up the screen with her balance of sincerity and ferocity. Not to be outdone, however, Dominic West more than holds his own in the film as Colette’s frustrated and sexually promiscuous husband, Willy. There is a genuine chemistry between them that keeps the film moving, as they walk the tightrope between love and hate.
Set in 1893, Colette is a modern take on the period drama in many ways. Although she starts out as a quiet country girl, Colette’s journey takes her from the shadows to the spotlight. Beginning as Willy’s ghost-writer, Colette seems content to allow him to take the glory for her story… until their notoriety begins to take over the country. As her novel’s popularity grows, so too does Colette’s confidence in her ability to write and speak her voice. This adds an intriguing element to her relationship with Willy, not because of the state of their marriage but rather because of how challenged he is by her growth and burgeoning sexuality. Although Willy’s patriarchal mindset prevents him from fully embracing her increasing conviction, neither does he dismiss it.
Without question, Colette sparks strong conversation about gender identity and roles within our modern society. Solid performances keep the film moving, even in moments when the narrative feels slightly more padded than necessary.