Colette – Film Review by Frank L
Director: Wash Westmoreland
Writers: Richard Glatzer (screenplay by), Wash Westmoreland (screenplay by)
Stars: Keira Knightley, Fiona Shaw, Dominic West
Wash Westmoreland collaborated with his partner Richard Glatzer to write and direct Still Alice (2014). At that time they had along with Rebecca Lenkiewicz created the script for Colette (Keira Knightley) which concentrates on the early years of Colette’s adult life when as a twenty year old she married the writer Henri Gauthier Villars known as Willi (Dominic West) who is fourteen years her senior. Their relationship epitomised the inferior role which a woman played in society. Colette, however, is a powerful personality, who starts to write herself from a semi-autobiographical base but the books are published as written by Willi. He is adamant about this as he is the known author – masculine control in the ascendant.
The film follows their unconventional marriage, as regards sexual relations, with the conventional external veneer of the man being in control. In her own escapades, Colette makes the acquaintance of one Missy (Denise Gough), delicately androgynous in male sartorially elegant clothes. All of this takes place in the artistic fervour of Paris just after the Eiffel Tower had been built at the end of the nineteenth century.
In the course of the fifteen years or so of the marriage, which the film covers, we see Colette move from an innocent country girl with a knowing mother (Fiona Shaw) to an extremely street-wise, independent young woman. It is a challenging role which Knightley masters and even requires her to demonstrate the unlikely skill of being an Egyptian dancer. In contrast the role of Willi is a more straight forward one as his life is more recognisable. However, he is genuinely puzzled by the intelligence of Colette and her bravery and West demonstrates this bafflement.
Westmoreland evokes a Paris in which fashionable salons with beautifully attired men and women babble about nothing in particular. It is an extremely smart society but it does not engage Colette. For all its apparent sophistication the world proclaimed by Colette and Missy is a step too far for that society.
As a film, it is timely as it contributes to the conversations which the #metoo movement has created and also the debates that the various issues that gender identity has generated in recent years. Westmoreland has a finely developed empathy for Colette’s bravery and her iconoclastic life. He brings it all together with subtlety into this view of Colette’s response to these issues more than one hundred years ago. He has mixed art and life creatively.