Director: Wash Westmoreland
Keira Knightey plays the singular French novelist Colette in this biopic of a woman whose life and literature became the naughty scandal of early 20th Century Paris and is still loved today.
The story of ‘Colette’ herself is as enticing as those stories she wrote about her heroines, the most famous possibly being Claudine (‘Claudine à l'école’ (1900), ‘Claudine à Paris’ (1901), ‘Claudine en ménage’ (1902), and ‘Claudine s'en va’ (1903)) and Gilberte Alvar (‘Gigi' (1944)) – the latter being adapted to film and starring Leslie Caron and Louis Jourdan.
Westmoreland’s ‘Colette’ features the life of Colette in her twenties, the period when she met the charmingly wicked and older Willy, who would allow his young wife a degree of liberty in exploring her sensuality – as long as it was with other women – but couldn’t quite believe that she didn’t miss a significant something when doing so.
This bantering and extremely affectionate couple titillated Paris for years with their quasi-autobiographical escapades but eventually Colette’s need for independence and self-determination grew beyond the comprehension of Willy and their relationship ended. Sad, because you realised that there had been genuine affection and that poor old Willy was a product of, and trapped within a male concept of acceptable. Willy did not have the vision to meet Colette’s expectations and Colette understood with sadness that Willy’s could not accompany her beyond existing societal restraints.
Do go and see ‘Colette’. The set design and costumes are stunning and Knightley and West excellent. The nuanced sadness of a failed relationship, the absolute outrage of a woman experiencing impossible inequality, and the delight Parisian society took in Colette’s ‘creations’ are all beautifully portrayed.
(*Colette in later life was elected to the Belgian Royal Academy (1935), the Académie Goncourt (1945), and the President (1949). She was awarded a Chevalier (1920) and in 1953 Colette was made a Grand Officer of the Légion d'honneur. Colette was honoured by a state funeral on her death in 1954.)