‘Colette’ recounts a torrid journey to fame
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.