Set in late 19th Century France, Colette appears beyond its time through the defiance of gender norms and in the exploration of sexual orientation. However, the negative reaction to these progressive steps fiercely remind the audience that it was a sexist, patriarchal setting.
The story follows novelist and actress Colette, played by Keira Knightly, starting with the move from her countryside upbringing to the city of Paris upon the marriage to writer Willy, portrayed by Dominic West. Willy asks Colette to ghost write for him and she abides quite willingly for nothing more than to see if she can, but as the film goes on she writes for him more and more reluctantly. Eventually she wants acclaim for her successful novels which does not bode well with her husband.
Alongside the overarching plot, the film delves deep into gender roles. While Willy’s infidelity is expected to be accepted as an intrinsic need of a man, Colette’s affairs are only allowed if they are with another woman. Despite Colette clearly being the more capable of the two in a literary sense, Willy hammers in to her that her work would be nothing without him.
Colette herself starts out with tendencies to concede and do as she is told. However, her strong minded nature which is prevalent from the outset grows throughout the film and in due course leads her to follow her own rules. Keira Knightly’s performance is utterly convincing as both the younger more naiive Colette and the elder version who is passionate about being in control. Frankly, it is the best I have ever seen her.
Willy remains consistent throughout, which I believe to be clever direction by Wash Westmoreland. Without Dominic West changing his portrayal, Willy goes from coming across as quite whimsical to appearing nothing but selfish, all due to the changes in the characters around him.
Overall the film is not a dramatic, edge-of-your-seat viewing experience, but it is certainly thought provoking and made most pleasurable by the French landscapes and classical soundtrack that will transport you from the cinema.
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