A very personal project for Director Wash Westmoreland (Still Alice), Colette was the final film that he and his partner Richard Glatzer worked on before Glatzer sadly passed away in 2015 – and indeed it was a script that had been on Westmoreland’s radar since 2001.
Now finally bringing their story to the screen (Glatzer is credited for screenplay, and there is a rather lovely tribute at the end), there is a timeliness to this true story – despite its late 1800s grounding – that feels surprisingly relevant. Following the story of Colette (Knightley) and her older husband Willy (West), Colette’s salacious stories of a young Parisian woman named Claudine are released under her established author husband’s name. Together, they start a genuine phenomenon, and between writing, Colette embarks on liaisons with Southern Belle, Georgie Raoul-Duval (Tomlinson) and the androgynous Missy (Gough). It is only a matter of time however before Colette wishes to be seen as an author in her own right, and sees a life for herself beyond her husband.
Keira Knightley gives a fantastic performance as the titular character, and her arc from humble country girl to confident Parisian socialite is beautifully pitched. She continues to show her strengths, particularly in period dramas, and she ensures this character is believable and compelling throughout. Dominic West also gives a great performance as the portly Willy, cutting a larger-than-life figure with both his outlandish screen presence and rotund form.
The production design is suitably sumptuous with the costumes and splendour of Parisian aristocracy being exquisitely crafted. All of this is to be expected with a film such as this, but what was so unexpected was its exploration of gender politics and its celebration of queer culture was surprisingly forward-thinking given its period setting. There is a poignant relevancy to this film regarding women, and the struggle for equality. Colette as a character is one who struggles to be recognised for her work in a “man’s” world and this is something which is sadly still so telling in modern Hollywood.
This is the sort of film where you know exactly what you’re getting, but where it might be a little generic in its execution, it is exceptionally progressive thematically and in tone, and this is something which may surprise. With fantastic performances, and a lavish setting, Colette is a film that will sweep you off your feet.