Colette

In Cinemas Now

History is about to change.

Keira Knightley plays the titular French novelist in this biopic directed by Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Wash Westmoreland (Quinceañera).

"Colette arrives from the countryside as a young bride to Willy (West) — an older, notorious literary entrepreneur — and she is immediately swept into flamboyant, libertine society. At Willy’s prompt, she takes pen to paper and invents the loosely autobiographical Claudine novels, which take Paris by storm. The character Claudine becomes a veritable pop-culture icon, but Colette does not, since Willy takes authorial credit. To reclaim her literary voice, Colette must set out for new transgressive adventures, sans Willy." (Sundance Film Festival)

Literary biopic Colette successfully honours a remarkable writer for her character rather than her process. The film stars Keira Knightley as literary icon Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette; first wife of prominent French writer, Willy. Their new marriage is tested when Willy asks Colette to pen his next work based on stories from her youth. The idea of ghost-writing her husband’s new novel is initially a seductive prospect; that he would trust her literary skill in a time when women weren’t often trusted intellectually was thrilling. But when Willy demands she continues writing—mining her own life for material—while denying her credit, Colette begins to question her value. What follows is a riveting negotiation into the boundaries of authorship and collaboration.

No one does seething quite like Keira Knightley, and she deploys some of her best emotional work in this film. Naivety, hurt, determination, wit, and gratification all feel thoroughly hers. Dominic West, too, is excellent as Willy, shifting deftly between sleazy charm and utter cruelty.

Alongside their work, the couple’s negotiations begin to involve mistresses; first Willy’s, then Colette’s; including an American heiress played with a shocking Southern accent by British actress Eleanor Tomlinson (Poldark). The film doesn’t shy away from Colette’s queerness as many historic biopics tend to do, including a certain Academy Award-nominated picture. It’s quietly energising; there’s no grand, emotional coming out. Colette registers her attractions and acts on them. The relationship between Colette and her transmasculine partner Missy (Denise Gough) is the film’s major strength.

Directed by Wash Westmoreland, dedicated to his late husband Richard Glatzer, the film took major efforts to be made. According to interviews with the director, the script was first rejected by producers as “too niche” in the early 2000s. Almost two decades later, as Hollywood finally begins to catch up to audiences’ appetite for varied stories, Colette has found its place.

As far as period dramas go, this is one of the most fun and funny to date. It’s a shame we don’t see Colette’s writing process beyond close-ups of inkwells and cursive, and it’s easy to want for a deeper investigation of Colette the author. However, it is truly a delight to watch Colette come into her own.

Hollywood Reporter

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A safe but enjoyable take on the author's anything-but-safe early career.

The Times (UK)

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Keira Knightley slips effortlessly into the evolution of Colette...

Vanity Fair

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Colette isn't intense on process, but it does illustrate well what might motivate a writer, how her unique spirit is stoked and developed.

Variety (USA)

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"Colette" ranks as one of the great roles for which Keira Knightley will be remembered.

Vulture

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As a story of a woman who eventually asserts her creative independence and fights for the artistic credit she deserves, Colette is more satisfying intellectually than sensually.

FilmInk (Australia)

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... a delightful and finely-crafted piece of cinema.

Rolling Stone

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A radiant, riveting Keira Knightley meets every challenge the title role of French novelist Colette throws at her and turns this tale of a pioneering feminist into an exhilarating kick.

Stuff.co.nz (James Croot)

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Knightley in particular makes a welcome return to the spotlight, reminding audiences of why she was once British period dramas' go-to-gal in the likes of Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karenina and The Duchess.