Colette is a period piece on the formative years of Colette, a pioneering novelist, journalist, actress and French mime of the first half of the 20th century, who goes on to become a cultural icon in France, inspiring generations of artists.
Her novels were largely concerned with the pains and pleasures of love and renown for their command of sensual description. She was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948 and was widely known for her 1944 novella Gigi, which become the basis for the film and Lerner and Loewe stage production of the same name.
Directed by Wash Westmoreland, it stars Keira Knightly and an almost unrecognisable Dominic West as Willy (Henry Gauthier-Villars) and Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette.
Transplanted from her childhood home in rural France after marrying a successful Parisian writer, Colette is thrown into the intellectual and artistic splendour of Paris on the arms of her husband, her brilliant Parisian rake. A gambler and a philanderer, when funds become short, Willy convinces Colette to ghostwrite for him. She comes up with a semi-autobiographical novel about Claudine, a witty and brazen country girl, sparking a bestseller and a cultural sensation.
Colette and Willy become the talk of Paris as success continues, and their adventures together inspire additional Claudine novels. Trouble brews when Colette wishes to have her name associated with her work and a fight for creative ownership begins. Her actions following challenged gender roles of the time, and it made her determined to break through societal constraints. She revolutionised literature and opened the path to fashion and sexual expression.
Keira Knightly seamlessly transforms from a country girl to become a woman of the world. She was the perfect choice to embody Colette's complexity and depth. Meanwhile, Dominic West, playing a cad with a voracious appetite for society, women and fame, making his wife his literary slave and literally locking her behind closed doors, still manages to be charming and irresistible. However, the prize goes to Irish actress Denise Gough who is mesmerising and shines as Mathilde de Morny aka Missy, the cross-dressing noblewoman she plays with style and strength. It's revelational.
The greatest strength of this film is its presentation of women as complex and whole, however, it's not the telling of a culmination of a journey, but of the journey itself. It has modern relevance and explores the ever-present slow burning discontent that many women will identify with. The costumes and set designs are lavish and the film paints a realistic portrait of a marriage going toxic. However, some scenes were cliché and unnecessarily realistic in the passing of the wind or the pissing in the pot; take that as you may.