Co­lette too timid to cap­ture grit of hero­ine

Times Colonist - - Arts - JAKE COYLE

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.

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