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Sunday January 13, 2019 4:00pm
Rainbow Theatre, Northumberland Mall, Cobourg

pic5After marrying a successful Parisian writer known commonly as "Willy" (Dominic West), Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley) is transplanted from her childhood home in rural France to the intellectual and artistic splendor of Paris. Soon after, Willy convinces Colette to ghostwrite for him. She pens a semi-autobiographical novel about a witty and brazen country girl named Claudine, sparking a bestseller and a cultural sensation. After its success, Colette and Willy become the talk of Paris and their adventures inspire additional Claudine novels. Colette's fight over creative ownership and gender roles drives her to overcome societal constraints, revolutionizing literature, fashion and sexual expression

Cast: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Denise Gough, Fiona Shaw, Robert Pugh, Eleanor Tomlinson
Directed By: Wash Westmoreland
Genre: Drama   Language: English
Runtime: 111 minutes Rating: R (for some sexuality/nudity)


by Anne-Katrin Titze

Wash Westmoreland's Colette, co-written with Richard Glatzer and Rebecca Lenkiewicz, begins with 19-year-old Colette (Keira Knightley, energetic and thoughtful) in bed at her family home being awakened by sunshine and her restless cat.

This is only the first of many awakenings in a film which focuses on her early years and the marriage to Willy (Dominic West), a writer and Paris society fixture who employs a number of ghostwriters doing the work for him that he publishes under his pseudonym. Soon his wife will be one of them.

pic1 450He convinces her, lacking his usual charm, by locking her in a room and telling her to put words to paper. The outcome is unforeseen. The Claudine stories, based on Colette's childhood, become a gigantic success. For Willy. His rampant infidelities are juxtaposed with Colette's curiosity. When she meets Mathilde de Moray (Denise Gough), who goes by the name Missy and wears men's clothes, a new bond is formed, one that relies less on exploitation.

We can read Missy's thoughts in just a tilt of her head or the way she feels utterly comfortable in her suit and tie. Dickie Beau as the famous mime Wague, who wove in and out of Colette's life, and had great importance for her career change, resurrects a forgotten form of entertainment in front of our eyes.

Colette's parents in the countryside, Robert Pugh as her father Jules and Fiona Shaw as her mother Sido, are personalities in their own right, not just caricatures that help the plot along. Especially Shaw inserts great dashing into the smallest acts, such as slicing courgettes.

Ultimately, it is Knightley's film and there seems to be a double-layer in her performance. Costume designer Andrea Flesch provides Colette with intricate lovely belle époque outfits and there is a sense of joyous celebration throughout - which is no small feat considering the fact that a lot of what we see deals with oppression, betrayal, and an attempt at ownership.

pic2Dominic West manages to balance Willy's charm with his fiendishness. Were he any more monstrous, we couldn't understand why she stayed in the first place. He forced her to write, she obeyed, masterful literature was born. The narrative is more entangled than that.

This evocation of Colette in 2018 knows that its heroine will always be larger than what is on screen - which makes this beautiful portrayal of a very important writer such a pleasure to watch.

In the middle of the 20th century, Hollywood produced Vincente Minnelli's Gigi, starring Leslie Caron, and even then the subversive sparks could not be contained by adding a patronizing, lecherous framing device that has Maurice Chevalier praise in song the heavens for inventing little girls for the amusement of little boys.

Colette's life and work was a marvel of complexity and this is a chance to have a new generation discover her.