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ven un­der her ab­bre­vi­ated pen name of ‘Co­lette’, the French early-20th-cen­tury writer more prop­erly known as Si­donie-Gabrielle Co­lette, who wrote the novel Gigi, is fast fad­ing from col­lec­tive mem­ory. And if that’s true of Co­lette, it’s dou­bly true of her phi­lan­der­ing hus­band, Henry Gau­thier-Vil­lars, who wrote un­der the all too ap­pro­pri­ate nom-de-plume of ‘Willy’. There was a time, ap­par­ently, when the whole of fin-de-siè­cle Paris would ask: ‘Have you read the lat­est Willy?’ Now it’s a case of ‘Have you read any Willy at all?’

And ultimately, it’s this pass­ing of time and fad­ing from mem­ory that makes the biopic Co­lette a film that charms, mod­estly en­ter­tains and is cer­tainly pretty to look at but never quite grips in the way those in­volved in its mak­ing must have hoped.

Di­rected by Bri­tish film­maker Wash West­more­land, who helped Ju­lianne Moore win an Os­car with Still Al­ice, this is a film that starts out as­sum­ing we know more about its sub­ject than many of us do, and yet ends – rather abruptly – leav­ing us cer­tainly bet­ter in­formed but with lit­tle de­sire to find out more.

Thank­fully, there are com­pen­sa­tions, chief among which is Keira Knight­ley, who is ter­rific in the cen­tral role. When we first meet her she ap­pears to be an in­no­cent teenager liv­ing a quiet ru­ral life in deep­est Bur­gundy 14 with her pro­tec­tive par­ents. But from the mo­ment we find her rolling around in the hay with her sig­nif­i­cantly older, more so­phis­ti­cated ad­mirer, Henry (Do­minic West), we’re pretty sure there will be more to the spir­ited Co­lette than meets the eye. She likes sex, longs for ex­cite­ment and loves her ‘Willy’, for starters.

Alas, once they are mar­ried and in­stalled in Paris, she dis­cov­ers that her flam­boy­antly loud, bon-viveur publisher hus­band is ill de­serv­ing of her af­fec­tions. He’s se­ri­ally and un­re­pen­tantly un­faith­ful, a dis­cov­ery that prompts his strong-willed young wife not to leave him but cer­tainly to re­view her op­tions.

Not only would she like to write her­self, at a time when writ­ing was con­sid­ered no job for a wo­man, but when it comes to his in­fi­deli­ties she dis­cov­ers she’s very much an if-you-can’tbeat-’em-join-’em kind of girl. And one with a grow­ing in­ter­est in other women.

This is the fourth big film to fea­ture les­bian re­la­tion­ships in just over a month, which might be one rea­son why it strug­gles for dra­matic im­pact. It’s also far from the first film re­cently about

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