BFI London Film Festival: Colette

Directed by Wash Westmoreland
Starring Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Denise Gough, Fiona Shaw and Eleanor Tomlinson
Screening at LFF October 11th, 12th and 13th 2018

by Joanna Orland

Seventeen years in the making for director Wash Westmoreland, Colette tells the story of pioneering French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. Barely out of her teens when she marries Willy, the two become a fixture of the Paris social scene in the late 19th century, while becoming literary sensations with the Claudine series.

Behind the scenes, Colette is the true literary genius of the couple. As it’s a man’s world, Willy takes full credit for her work, while Colette longs to be published under her own name. Eventually tiring of her husband’s misogynist ways, Colette fights back to claim her independence from her overbearing, philandering husband.

Colette has a freshness and lightness to it not found in a typical period piece. Keira Knightley has never been on such fine form as she is in this role; captivating and unpretentious as this fascinating character. Dominic West charms with a humourous performance as the sleazy Willy, portraying him as a pathetic, yet dominating man.

More than subservient to her husband, Colette led quite the interesting life of her own outside of writing. A mime and an actress, she was also quite scandalous, embarking on a series of relationships with other women, notably the Marquise de Belbeuf. She went down in history, performing pantomime Rêve d’Égypte at the Moulin Rouge, causing a brawl of sorts after sharing an onstage kiss with the Marquise. This sequence in the film has remarkable choreography, taking its inspiration from the Metropolis robot dance scene, put to a wonderful score by composer Thomas Adès.

A story of a female literary pioneer, Colette is empowering and inspiring. The great performances and fabulous musical score really lift the film, making it a joy to watch.


Leave a Reply