Keira Knightley offers up one of her best performances yet in this beautiful retelling of the French author’s early career.
Colette is a film that contains everything that you could possibly want in a brilliant period drama film: strong performances from the leading cast, a fascinating story that has up until now been untold, gorgeous costumes and in general beautifully captured.
Keira Knightley plays Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, a woman who is trapped in a marriage to Willy (Dominic West) – a man who likes control at all times no matter the cost, particularly when it comes to the writing of Claudine stories. As the film goes on, we witness Colette’s growing confidence and desire to have her voice heard.
Wash Westmoreland’s beautifully lavish and stylish film allows Colette’s character to blossom with grace and confidence steadily, helped of course by Knightley’s spirited and sharp performance. There is no room for messing about in this film, as the audience is taken very quickly from the early years of Colette’s unusual marriage and their collaboration in writing to the moment in which she begins to find her voice. It is all sharply paced and effectively ensures that the story remains focused on Colette and the variety of relationships she embarks on that help her to make a decision about her life.
Everything about this film is lavish and richly designed, captured perfectly through Giles Nuttgen’s cinematography and Andrea Flesch’s costume designs that evoke the era and the characters to great effect.
But the film is also a reminder of just how many female writers of that era must have felt and now we have the power to bring their stories to the forefront. From the very beginning, we get a sense of Colette’s independent spirit in the way she sneaks off to meet Willy and from then on it feels like a real journey of self-discovery for her as she continually confronts Willy about his behaviour, gaining confidence through her writing – it is inspiring to watch.
It is also a surprisingly sexy film (particularly for a period drama), referring to the numerous affairs that Colette and Willy had – while both clinging on to their marriage for as long as possible. But again, these intimate encounters are tastefully captured, highlighting Colette’s passion and the key moments in which she discovered something about herself along the way.
Keira Knightley as Colette gives one of her finest performances – she is razor sharp and completely immersed in this fiery and increasingly passionate character. Her final confrontation with Willy towards the end of the film is a powerful moment in the film, releasing the restrained frustration and anger at the way he has treated her and increasingly snubbed her contribution to great effect. It is an intelligent and deeply thoughtful performance that engages from beginning to end.
Her chemistry with Dominic West as Willy is also strong and engaging to watch – particularly when they spar with each other, making for some compelling scenes. West’s performance is charming – you can see the character’s weaknesses such as being a greedy and controlling individual (the moment in which he locks Colette in her room to make her write is evidence of this) but somehow it is difficult to ultimately dislike him. His performance never takes away from Knightley’s, rather it works alongside hers.
Elsewhere, there are also some lovely supporting performances to be enjoyed. Denise Gough as Missy who really is the driving force for Colette to find her voice and get her freedom. Gough is a reliable presence, offering plenty of charm in her performance. Meanwhile, Eleanor Tomlinson as the rebellious Georgie delivers her performance with utter conviction – even if the accent is a little bit all over the place.
Overall, this lavish and engaging film has plenty to recommend it and with plenty of things for audiences to take away from it.
By Emma Clarendon
Colette is in cinemas now.