Keira Knightley delivers a stellar performance in a film that explores what it means to be a woman in the early 20th Century, embracing bisexuality before a term even existed for it.
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Based on true events, Colette follows French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley), known publicly as Colette, who acts as a ghost-writer for her husband and Parisian socialite, Willy (Dominic West). After her novels become a hit and sequels are commissioned, Colette begins to fight for independence from Willy, determined to control her own life and let her brilliance shine.
Colette is as exquisite and daring as the story being told. Director Wash Westmoreland takes advantage of the gorgeous French countryside and the beautiful décor of the time period, filling every scene with beautiful things. With work like Still Alice under his belt, Westmoreland is able to confidently navigate the complexities that exist within personal relationships, especially when complications and betrayal arise. Westmoreland tackles a variety of timely subjects with a sensitive touch to deliver a story about a courageous young woman who was well ahead of her time.
Keira Knightley is at her best as the defiant Colette. Similar to her roles in other period pieces, such as Pride & Prejudice, Atonement and The Duchess, her tenacity and maturity mixed with her ageless appearance is enchanting and most importantly, likeable. There are many turns this film could have taken, but Knightley stays strong and self-righteous without being arrogant.
Knightley is supported by a cast that includes West and newcomer Denise Gough as the gender-bending Missy. West delivers as usual as Colette’s reckless and unfaithful husband, whose own insecurities prevent him from allowing his wife to receive the recognition she deserves. Missy, who dresses as a man and believes in defying stereotypes, is played by Gough with a quiet, haunting presence. She never pressures Colette to be different, but instead encourages her to share thoughts and feelings that she can’t air to the rest of society.
In this day and age, when we’re struggling to label these mixed feelings, Westmoreland delivers a new perspective that shows people have been struggling with their identity for a very long time. This coupled with Knightley’s unapologetic performance helps to cement Colette as a film that must be seen.
Colette is available in Australian cinemas from December 20
Image courtesy of Transmission Films