In January 2018, the film biopic Colette, starring Keira Knightley and directed by Wash Westmoreland, debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. The film has since gone on to win wide praise from critics as one of the best period pieces to be released in ages. Set in Belle Époque Paris (1871-1914), the film focuses on the title character, feminist pioneer and author, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette.
Born in the rural French countryside, Colette came from a humble upbringing. Without a dowry, she is proposed to by a much older and well known Parisian literary “entrepreneur” known as Willy (his real name is Henry Gauthier-Villars), who is played by Dominic West. While at first enchanted with the charismatic Willy, Colette comes to realize that he is a literary fraud. The real talent and writer in this relationship is, in fact, her.
Under his influence, she begins to write the first in a series of semi-autobiographical novels about a country girl named Claudine (they become known as the “Claudine stories”). Her husband claims all the credit for her work, publishes them under his name, and reaps all the financial benefit. The novels became overnight literary sensations in Europe and, in fact, today Colette is recognized as the most important woman writer in the history of French literature (she was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948).
The story of the film centres around her fight to claim creative ownership over her own work, to overcome gender disparities and social constraints, and to express her sexuality despite the stifling gender norms of the day. Colette had a number of female lovers and was in a relationship with transgender pioneer “Missy,” the Marquise de Belbeuf.
The film sets a high standard in recreating the rich opulence and lavish costuming that define turn of the century Paris, and the fiery and towering performance by Keira Knightley brings to the fore how revolutionary Colette really was. The on-screen chemistry between Knightley and West is undeniable and will likely bring both actors award recognition. The script, co-written by director Westmoreland, Richard Glatzer, and Rebecca Lenkiewicz is clever and sharp.
This is not a film to be missed! The Williams Lake Film Club will be screening Colette at the Gibraltar Room on Nov. 9 with financial support from the Williams Lake and District Credit Union. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., with the show starting at 7 p.m. Advance tickets available at the Open Book.