Starring: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Denise Gough
Director: Wash Westmoreland
Running Time: 111 mins
Colette is a British film about the life of the French novelist who wrote books for her husband, published under his name, however upon the roaring success of the novels, she strives to make her talents known to the world.
With an interesting premise that holds potential for strong emotional drama and a wider social commentary, Colette proves an engaging watch throughout, with clear passion behind its main themes, as well as an elegance and style that comes with a period drama from a director like Wash Westmoreland. With that said, it’s not a film that ever really grabbed me, and although it is an undoubtedly interesting watch, it fails to really provide the drama and tension that its story has the potential to be full of.
First things first, if you’ve seen The Wife over the last few months, you’ll likely be thinking that this film’s premise sounds a little familiar. That’s because it is, at least generally speaking, however in Colette’s case, there’s a real history to stick to, meaning it can’t develop to the insane extents of The Wife, while its focus is quite a lot broader than the main characters. The two films are certainly comparable, but not identical, and it’s best to make sure that you go in with a different mindset if you’re expecting something similar to The Wife.
Now, with that said, the strongest part of this film’s story is definitely the history. Maybe I’m uneducated about these things, but I have to say that I’ve never heard of the author Colette, nor any of her works, so I was intrigued to see her story, how ghost-writing plays out in practice, and the development of the writer as she becomes stronger-willed throughout her career.
And that’s where the lead performance from Keira Knightley comes in, which is very good. Again, it’s not quite on the spectacular level of Glenn Close in The Wife, but Knightley gives a very strong-willed and determined turn throughout, and featuring a striking contrast with her character’s increasingly desperate husband, also very well played by Dominic West, she proves a thoroughly likable lead that you want to see succeed and break boundaries in every direction.
Now, as I said, the film’s history is its most interesting point, but the focus here is far wider-reaching, with themes focusing on feminism, homosexuality, gender-fluidity and more, and the taboos and oppression that those practising such met with.
While all of the themes prove equally interesting and often touching, the story’s structure makes their delivery a little odd, going through each of them in a strangely episodic manner, starting off with a strongly feminist attitude, then moving onto a part of the story that talks about homosexuality, then about gender-fluidity, meaning all of the themes don’t come together in a satisfying and deeply passionate display, with each part of the movie feeling a little disjointed as a result.
Another issue with the movie is that it just doesn’t quite get under your skin as much as it should. While Knightley’s performance allows you to cheer Colette’s successes at breaking social norms, I felt the movie was lacking in a real struggle against oppression, with the character’s sheer determination and strength knocking down barriers and opponents with ease, and occasionally leaving some of those main themes feeling a little underdeveloped throughout, which is worsened by that episodic structure to the story.
Overall, I quite liked Colette. It’s an interesting watch with very good lead performances, an engaging history, and a wide range of main themes, and although it’s not the world’s most affecting or powerful watch, it does a good job at telling an engrossing and interesting story throughout, which is why I’m giving it a 7.4.