Wash Westmoreland directs Keira Knightly, Dominic West and Denise Gough in this turn of the century biopic of author Colette, exploring the years where she was married to, and ghost wrote the hit Claudine series for, the established ‘author’ Willy.
What an unexpected pleasure. A sexually frank and playful period drama, where marital bed hopping and bisexuality is treated as a fact of bohemian life rather than a cross to be endured. Westmoreland’s eye is non-judgmental of the romantic compromises and sexual betrayals of the Willy household. He’s far more concerned about the financial dangers and creative trap the marriage puts Colette unwillingly in. And that’s where the meat of the drama and the uniqueness of the narrative is. Knightly is a good actress and a great movie star – she excels in tailor made roles where glamorous, wilful and hedonistic poshos find themselves chafing against the constraints of society and controlling husbands (see her stellar work in Atonement, The Duchess, Anna Karenina). Here she makes light, convincing work of the tragedy and appears to relish the protagonist’s agency to untangle herself from the cage of men and gossip. And Dominic West’s Willy is a loveable rogue, despicable in his exploitation of his wife, yet never tipping completely into the out and out villain of the piece. Colette’s strength is that throughout its ribald tribulations and power struggles, Willy never completely loses his seductive slither of humanity to clumsily justify our heroine’s transformation into independent artist. She frees herself because of her own drive, talent and desires, not because her manipulative brute of a husband is evil incarnate… just a corrupt, slightly pathetic old romantic who she outgrows and outshines.