Keira Knightley gives a luminous performance as Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, a young woman in turn-of-the-century France who becomes a cultural icon. Screenwriters Wash Westmoreland, who also directs, the late Richard Glatzer and Rebecca Lenkiewicz chose to focus on Colette's formative years in their efforts to bring this biographical story, COLETTE, to the silver screen.
Growing up in rural France, Colette is fortunate to have a supportive mother, Sido (Fiona Shaw), who realizes the potential her daughter holds within. With her mother's encouragement, she marries a wealthy older man --- a writer --- from Paris, Henri Gauthier-Villars, known as "Willy" (Dominic West).
Moving to the City of Lights is quite an eye-opener for Colette, who soon learns that though her new husband loves her, he has the capacity to love many other women, as well. When his fortunes turn, Willy strongly suggests that Colette write the stories she often tells of her childhood.
Her subsequent novel "Claudine at School" about a young, headstrong woman, "Claudine", becomes an overnight sensation. Willy has claimed the novel his known, and now Colette is caught in the lie, as she continues to pen others. As a couple, they have become the toast of Paris, fully ensconced in the "Belle Epoque" era. But, like her husband, Colette has developed a wandering eye --- for women.
Life partners Westmoreland and Glatzer worked on the idea of a film about Colette for years. In 2014 they wrote and directed STILL ALICE, for which Julianne Moore won Best Actress. But Glatzer passed away shortly thereafter, before the final draft was completed. Thus Lenkiewicz, who wrote IDA, the Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language film, got involved. And the screenplay is divine, featuring dialogue that is exquisite, painfully so. As Colette and Willy grow further and further apart, their discussions become arguments which mirror the emotions of two people feeling betrayed and falling out of love.
Knightley is simply brilliant. She was Westmoreland's first choice as he felt she could most aptly embody this trail-blazing woman, who became one of the most successful authors of the 20th century. Knightley is a huge personal favorite of mine, and she is exceedingly well-equipped to carry this magnificent film on her own --- an Oscar-nominated performance for sure.
But she is not alone in this endeavor. West is an impressive choice for Willy. A charming --- at times despicable --- cad, Willy could be a hateful character. Yet West portrays him with a certain likeable quality. We understand why Colette falls for him initially --- and why she grows to loathe him.
COLETTE isn't just a well-acted movie, it is gorgeous to watch. Production designer Michael Carlin had the almost insurmountable task of creating Paris of Belle Epoque. To accomplish this, the Paris portion of the film was actually shot in Budapest, Hungary. No matter, because one cannot really discern the difference and the sets are truly breathtaking.
The fabulous costumes are the work of Andrea Flesch and the original music in COLETTE is written by Thomas Adès. When people claim they don't like "period pieces", I just want to slap them. COLETTE is that film --- and it is most definitely worth seeing!
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
David: COLETTE is the brain child of writer/director Wash Westmoreland and his co-writer/life partner Richard Glatzer. In 2001, they envisioned a feature length movie about the woman, Colette, who became fabulously famous in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. She then went on to write "Gigi" in 1944 which was made into a movie musical in 1958, and won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
The two collaborated on the Julianne Moore vehicle STILL ALICE, for which Moore won her richly deserved Best Actress Oscar. But when Glatzer died shortly after Moore's win at the 2015 Oscars, Westmoreland turned to Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Oscar winner for IDA, Best Foreign Language film of 2015) to complete the COLETTE screenplay.
So who was Colette? We first meet Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley) as an impressionable French country girl of 19 who is love struck with her soon-to-be husband, Willy (Dominic West), a well-known writer in Paris. When he begins to struggle financially, he proposes that his wife compose novels herself. As a ghost writer, she creates the character of "Claudine", capturing the imagination of avid readers all over Paris. But Willy is credited as the author, which will create great strife later in their marriage.
We literally watch Colette grow from a rather non-confrontational teen to a mature Parisian society woman in her thirties who finds her real voice. Knightley is magnificent, and I believe she will notch her third Academy Award nomination for this role. Westmoreland compares the real Colette's tenacity, passion and lust for freedom as a woman to today's "Time's Up" movement. And he only had Knightley in mind for the title role.
When he pitched the script to Keira via FaceTime, his cell phone was nearly out of power. At the last minute he told her that "You will do this character better than anyone else alive". As his phone finally died, she responded "Yes! Why not? Let's do it!".
COLETTE is a beautifully photographed period piece with lush costuming, and a wonderful score from Westmoreland's composer friend Thomas Adès. West is phenomenal as the larger-than-life philandering Willy. And when Colette experiments outside the bounds of heterosexual relations, she discovers Georgie Raoul-Duval (Eleanor Tomlinson, from TV's POLDARK) and Mathilde de Morny, Marquise de Belbeuf, known as Missy (Denise Gough), a lesbian who dressed as a man. But most significantly, this movie represents Knightley's finest hour as an actress.
Opinion: See It Now!