This review was originally published as part of our London Film Festival coverage on 13/10/2018.
If you’re not a fan of historical costume dramas, this won’t be the film to convert you – but don’t dismiss it just yet: Colette has the fascinating eponymous French novelist as its subject, a woman leading a revolutionarily liberal life in turn-of-the-century Paris. Lavishly produced and costumed, Colette truly gives a sense of the Belle Époque and its extraordinary verve, artistry and lust for life.
The story focuses on Colette’s tumultuous relationship with her older husband Willy, who published her wildly popular Claudine novels under his own name. The two embarked on extramarital affairs, with Willy willing to condone his wife’s relationships with other women. As Colette dives in at the beginning of their relationship, it takes time for characters and their situations to be defined.
Keira Knightley does well as Colette – you can see why such a role would draw her – but the naïve, younger version she delivers at the start is rather vague; it’s only when Gabrielle becomes “Colette” that Knightley sinks her teeth into the role. There’s an intriguing cast of supporting characters, including Colette’s astute mother Sido (Fiona Shaw). The only character given room to breathe, though, is Missy, Collette’s cross-dressing lover, and Denise Gough makes an impact with this distinctive character.
Undoubtedly, however, the film belongs to Dominic West, who is all gusto as Willy – he nails the balance between exploitative bastard, loving husband, terrible businessman and charming rogue. You understand Colette’s attraction to him, but he is as repulsive as he is sympathetic.
Dominic West has a gift of a part, and he absolutely knows what to do with it. Hopefully, he will garner the attention he deserves. The film is diverting and engaging – but it isn’t a masterpiece, taking the time it does to settle into the story after an abrupt start.
CAST: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Denise Gough, Eleanor Tomlinson, Al Weaver, Aiysha Hart, Ray Panthaki, Fiona Shaw
DIRECTOR: Wash Westmoreland
WRITERS: Richard Glatzer (story and screenplay); Wash Westmoreland and Rebecca D. Lenkiewicz (screenplay)
SYNOPSIS: Colette is pushed by her husband to write novels under his name. Upon their success, she fights to make her talents known, challenging gender norms.