Directed by Wash Westmoreland
Country: UK / USA
Colette is an insipid, occasionally colorful biographical drama about the gifted French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, here impersonated by the ever-charming English actress Keira Knightley, whose penchant for period dramas is mirrored in Pride & Prejudice (2005), Atonement (2007) and Anna Karenina (2012). The script, co-written by director Wash Westmoreland (Still Alice, 2014) and his late husband Richard Glatzer, focuses initially on the author’s early years spent in her Burgundy’s rural hometown and then mostly in Paris in 1893, where she moves with her unfaithful, talent-thief Parisian husband, Willy (Dominic West), who pursues success in literature at any cost.
In a society dominated by men, Willy takes all the credit for his wife’s clever writing without sketching a single line. His first book, Claudine a Paris, is a massive success, but as a vainglorious and greedy literary entrepreneur, he wants more and doesn’t intend to stop there. In a rush to meet publishing deadlines, he abusively locks his wife in a room to force her writing a new novel. However, and for his uneasiness, Colette is not the submissive type, rebelling against her husband and the system, and venturing in lesbian affairs with the ardent American socialite Georgie Raoul-Duval (Eleanor Tomlinson) and the perspicacious boyish Missy (Denise Gough). The sudden revelation that Georgie also shares her bed with Willy becomes Colette’s inspirational source for her next literary success: Claudine en Ménage.
Despite some admirable period details, the interesting moments come and go in a perpetual intermittence, becoming increasingly scarce when the story reaches its final part. The director was unable to overcome the pallid storytelling, which could easily be turned into avant-garde eccentricity if he had had a bit more audacity. The competent cast could do nothing to help him in this department.
The film shares its art-theft topic with another recent drama film, The Wife, whose more attractive course of events was elevated by the splendid return of Glenn Close to a first-class role.
A lot was left behind in this depthless account of a disaffected ghostwriter who wanted to affirm her artistic gift, freely and publicly. She actually did it with bravery and conviction, but this film doesn’t do her justice. Hence, my suggestion is: save your ticket money and read Colette’s biography instead.