‘Co­lette’ re­counts a tor­rid jour­ney to fame

Cape Argus - - LIFE - | Hol­ly­wood Re­porter JOHN DEFORE

CO­LETTE DI­REC­TOR: Wash West­more­land CAST: Keira Knight­ley, Do­minic West, Denise Gough RUN­NING TIME: 16 LNPS CLAS­SI­FI­CA­TION: 111 min RAT­ING: 3/5

AN en­joy­able ac­count of how France’s most fa­mous fe­male au­thor came out of the closet in more ways than one, Wash West­more­land’s Co­lette casts Keira Knight­ley as the coun­try girl whose lit­er­ary gifts (with the help of sala­cious plot­lines) out­shone those of all the male writ­ers around her, in­clud­ing her cel­e­brated hus­band.

Scep­tics may grouse that a movie about the crème de la crème of Paris is cast en­tirely with English ac­tors, but this is not a film for the high­est of high­brows. It is an en­gag­ing lit­er­ary com­ing-of-age story, and one em­bod­ied ably by its star.

We meet Si­donie-Gabrielle Co­lette as a pig­tailed teen liv­ing in Bur­gundy. A sub­stan­tially older fam­ily friend from Paris (Do­minic West’s Henry Gau­thier-Vil­lars, known as Willy) mar­ries her and he brings her to Paris, where he’s a no­to­ri­ous lib­er­tine. Willy is some­thing of a lit­er­ary im­pre­sario, hir­ing ghost­writ­ers to pen the sto­ries and re­views he pub­lishes un­der his own name. He tells Co­lette she should write a novel, us­ing sto­ries she has told him of her youth. The re­sult­ing book, Clau­dine at

School – pub­lished un­der Willy’s name – is an in­stant smash hit.

When Clau­dine is adapted for a stage show, the mag­netic ac­tress who plays her be­comes part of a “Clau­dine Trin­ity” with the au­thors; Willy de­scends more deeply into sex­ual fan­tasies and Co­lette falls in love with a les­bian aris­to­crat (Denise Gough is win­ning in the part).

Paving the way for Co­lette’s in­evitable di­vorce and the fame that will fol­low, the film shows how she grew in­ter­ested in the­atre and dance. When she learns that Willy has sold the rights to their Clau­dine se­ries, Co­lette stands up for her­self in the way we’ve been wait­ing for.

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