Colette too timid to capture grit of heroine
REVIEW Colette Where: Cineplex Odeon Victoria Starring: With Keira Knightley, Eleanor Tomlinson and Dominic West Directed by: Wash Westmoreland Parental advisory: PG Rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
Wash Westmoreland’s Colette is a very British movie about a very French feminist icon. A handsome and lively period film, it’s too timid to capture the ravenous appetites of the literary force that was Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. But with Keira Knightley playing the prolific and trailblazing author, Colette has nimbly condensed an un-condensable life into a sprightly and self-evidently relevant biopic.
“My name is Claudine, I live in Montigny; I was born there in 1884; I shall probably not die there.”
Those were the first lines in Claudine a l’école, the 1900 coming-of-age novel that made the Burgundy-born Colette’s fictional alter ego, Claudine, a sensation, as well as a highly lucrative industry. It was, however, published under the nom de plume of her husband (“Willy”), the rakish publisher Henry Gauthier-Villars (played by Dominic West in the film).
It would be years before Colette was writing under her own name, though once she did, she quickly established herself as, among many other things, one of France’s greatest authors. She was nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature in 1948 and given a state funeral after her death in 1954.
Along the way, she blazed a relentlessly unconventional path through Belle Époque Paris, leaving behind a litany of affairs (with men and women) and scandals of all sorts.
So, sure, try getting all that (and much more) into a movie. Westmoreland (Still Alice), along with co-writers Richard Glatzer (Westmoreland’s late husband) and Rebecca Lenkiewicz, have judiciously opted to concentrate on Colette’s early period married to Gauthier-Villars, when she wrote the first Claudine books.
There is little in Knightley’s Colette that suggests the fire of a writer who published nearly 80 volumes in her career or the tenacity of someone who reported from the front lines of the First World War.
With its elegant photography by Giles Nuttgens and Thomas Ades’ lush score, Colette is missing some of the rebellious grit that its renegade heroine deserves. But in broad strokes, Westmoreland’s film succeeds as an inspirational period tale so much for today about a woman seizing her independence.
Keira Knightley stars as the eponymous heroine of Colette.