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“Colette” Seductive and Baroque




Review by John Delia

One of the most alluring period pieces in recent years the biography Colette comes to the screen with a sordid story that should entertain and raise a few eyebrows. The audience target here is women 25 and older, but mostly over 50. Nicely directed with 1800’s French costuming, sets and locations, the film delves into a pair of novelists’ romance, decadence, duplicity and sex. Sounds like a winner to me, however it’s a bit too drawn out.

It’s the late 1800’s Europe and Paris is agog with wanting the next novel by writer Willy (Dominic West) a romancer who has pushed all the right buttons of the female psyche. Visiting a friend in the South of France he meets their daughter Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley). Bored out of her mind Gabrielle takes a fancy to the man who is loved by many women and allows him to court her.

Jumping ahead a bit we find the two have married and enjoying Paris where Willy can continue to spread his love around. Yes, and I do mean spread it around with every hooker in the City of Love. Still having trouble with hisl novelettes he notices that Gabrielle has a penchant for writing and with that the story plays out with her being taken advantage, being cheated on, her affair with a married woman, becoming a writer and more drama than you can shake a stick at.

The film gets played out well with a fine cast and direction by Wash Westmoreland, although drawn-out, it’s commendable. It’s the script that needed some downsizing as it drags somewhat, and even gets a bit uninteresting. The point here is the biography of the famous Colette who was among the first women to establish herself in French writing circles. Yet the film spends too much time on Willy’s extravagance and “extracurricular” activities. I believe that Westmoreland really immersed himself in the story and wanted to bring Paris to the screen through the eyes of his main character. And he does accomplish that with grandeur and sensuality in a big way. It may be that I’m the wrong gender to complain, but having seen hundreds of period pieces over my lifetime, including the fabulous ones like Howard’s End and A Room with a View, this effort should have been condensed.

Both Keira Knightley and Dominic West do their level best creating their characters. West has a tough job of breathing life into the pompous Willy who has been riding high on his fame. He also has a way with words and easily controls Gabrielle while treating himself to impressing people by buying dinners at fancy restaurants, feeding his sexual habit with local harlots, and even taking advantage of his wife’s female friends as well. He cannot hold onto his money and the bank needs to remind him. Getting advances from his publisher, he finds himself pressured to deliver his next novel that he plagiarizes from his own wife.

As for Keira Knightley, as Gabrielle/Colette, an attractive and easily manipulated young lady, she falls prey to Willy due to her inexperience. However, it’s Knightley playing Knightley as we have seen her before with roles like Elizabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice, Cecilia Tallis in Atonement, and Georgiana in The Duchess. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s hard to keep her previous rolls out your mind while watching her here. She does handle the role of Gabrielle with aplomb and with that makes the film work. She gets extra points for her believable steamy scenes with Eleanor Tomlinson as Georgie Raoul-Duval and Denise Gough as Missy that are very erotic and revealing.

Colette has been rated R by the MPAA for some sexuality/nudity. It plays out in the English language with some French mixed in for realism.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A nicely played biography, but could have been condensed for better viewing. (3.5 out of 5 Stars).

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Denise Gough, Fiona Shaw, Eleanor Tomlinson, Robert Pugh, Ray Panthaki, Shannon Tarbet
Directed by: Wash Westmoreland
Genre: Biography, Drama, History, Period Piece
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 1 hr. 52 min.
Opening Date: October 12, 2018
Distributed by: Bleecker Street
Released in: Standard

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