Jacob Richardson | 12/12/2018
Surprisingly fun and affecting, Colette very much relies on a striking performance from Keira Knightley while making a statement on power, ownership and attribution.
A biographical drama about real-life 20th century writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley), Colette opens with her romance with a charismatic and dominant Parisian known only as Willy (Dominic West). Willy convinces his wife to help him write novels to fix their fiscal woes. While her series of novels, the ‘Claudine’ series, is phenomenally popular, the fact that they are released under Willy’s name as the purported author grates on Colette over time, and frustrates her. As Willy and Colette’s relationship degrades, for a myriad of reason, it is set against the backdrop of Colette’s realisation that she has to stand up against society's stereotypes and structures and take control of her own destiny.
Colette feels very much like a typical period drama. There are a range of indelible sets, spanning the old Parisian streets to the French countryside. The costuming is stunning, and the steady aging of the actors, both in physical years and emotional state, is well-represented by the fabrics, shapes and style of the various outfits.
The story starts interminably slowly, but steadily picks up, and the final drama-filled third is engrossing. The twists and turns start coming, and the real interest around this real-life heroine is mined for cinematic bravery.
The real heart of the film, however, is in the relationship between Colette and Willy (or indeed, within Colette herself). Willy is domineering throughout, and West perfectly captures the contrast between the horror of the man and his charm. You can understand why Colette would fall for him, but you can also understand why she would need to cast him off.
As Colette, Keira Knightley brings both an initial naive tenderness and an inner, by the end overwhelming, strength. Her arc is beautifully constructed, and we realise both how cunning she is, and how intelligent. What comes across most though is the bravery. Knightley’s performance captures how truly risky and how truly brave Colette’s actions in the third act truly are, as she blows up everything she knows to preserve her intellectual property and to solidify her reputation as a writer.
While there are some pacing issues, Colette is a beautifully realised period drama anchored by a fantastic performance from Knightley.