Colette is the latest Kiera Knightly period drama. Directed by Wash Westmoreland (Still Alice) the film is crackling with contemporary themes and beautiful cinematography, showing how a film set over 100 years ago still relates to today.
The film follows Colette as she begins her writing career. Married to Willy, a successful writer whose money has dried up due to gambling and other such nefarious means. Willy forces Colette to write to ensure his career remains successful. Colette picks up her pen and writes a semi-autobiographical set of stories called Claudine which become huge successes, with her husband taking all the credit.
Keira Knightly is a knock out. Her performance is sublime and subtle. I really enjoyed watching her and her character develop throughout the film, and the scene where Colette confronts her husband about selling the rights to her work (this isn’t really a spoiler, its in the trailer, also it happened over 100 years ago) is truly incredible and the theatre I was in was completely still.
As the film progresses so do themes of feminism, the rights of women, and same-sex relationships. Colette has a fling with an American heiress, and an extended relationship with an English noblewoman Mathilde de Morny (Missy) who shocks society by wearing her hair short and trousers. Colette makes a point of using male pronouns when speaking about Missy and for representation it’s great. However, at the end of the film when explaining what happened next. They decide to leave out the sad end to the story of Missy and Colette which made me feel cheated in a sense as they portrayed them as having been together for the rest of their lives.
The story leans heavily on woman’s rights and feminism. Colette was at the forefront of wearing trousers and her hair short, and her right to her work. The portrayal of this struggle for her freedom and her work is carefully portrayed and, in a sense, not really gone into much. The real struggle for the rights to her work is not depicted and is simply a short sentence in the credit sequence. I feel like this would have been incredible to watch. Instead of following Colette and her personal relationships more, I feel like this film would have been really something else if this point of her story was tackled.
I found this focus of the film was the main problem, there are unnecessary scenes and moments. There is a long shot of Colette walking through a party which lasts a long time and felt really unnecessary. The film is maybe around an hour and 20 minutes, but at some points it really drags because of these scenes and moments which really do nothing. They don’t really add to the characterisation or the plot and are just there.
Another problem I had was the timeline. They do jumps of a few years here and there, but it’s not often and although they do tell you which year it is, but it’s very hard to keep track of when it is. A lot also happens in these jumps, and you are left to learn about these moments through an offhand comment in a scene.
The cinematography and the music of this film is incredible and really adds to the moments on screen. The performances of the supporting actors are wonderful as well, and you are really on Colette’s side throughout the whole film. As a period drama this movie sits beautifully, remaining true to the past and what was expected, but also connecting the events to the modern era very subtly and showing how far we have come, but also how little.
I enjoyed this film. Keira Knightly was incredible, and the story of Colette is truly interesting. I just wish it had focused more on her writing and her struggles to claim her work rather than on her personal life and relationships. This was interesting, but it feels like the focus of the film was misplaced. Here is France’s most celebrated female writer of the 20th Century, and they didn’t even show how that became so, instead dedicating a 5-minute montage to her getting laid with an American Heiress. A good period drama, with some incredible acting and themes saves this film from this complete oversight of the amazing story of Colette.