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MOVIES: (LFF 2018) Colette - Review

Delivering a feminist take on the popular French novelist Colette who became a leading writer in her country after escaping an abusive marriage, Still Alice director Wash Westmoreland subverts the traditional approach of a biopic in favour of a deftly plotted character study, with elements of humour that get arguably, a career best performance out of Keira Knightley, which turns out to be one of the best period pbiopics of recent years.

Rather than force the actors to adopt bad French accents, Colette wisely allows the actors to embrace their own in a way that adds authenticity to the script in the same way that The Death of Stalin utilised various different British accents showing how diverse the Russian accents could be. This allows Keira Knightley to shine, and she steals the scene from the get go. An unlikely writer behind a smash hit, Colette finds herself having to overcome her cheating, manipulative husband who himself is a famous Paris socialite, Henry Gauthier-Villars - referred to by the name Willy throughout the entire film. He’s played by Dominic West, who can match Knightley in his own right, providing a more than formidable foil.

Colette has to overcome the sexism of the times. She can’t have her own, written material published under her own name no matter how influential her writing is due to her husband’s pathetic justifications of why they can’t operate as a husband and wife duo, (it’s all about the branding), and as the years go by it’s clear to see the strain taking its toll on the relationship that once started out as happy and prosperous. Both are having affairs with other women, both openly and secretive, and it’s interesting to see how Colette’s writing changes over the course of the film to affect her real-life circumstances, after all – there’s an old saying among writers – “Write What You Know,” and that couldn’t be any clearer here. When she mentions that she is going to talk about killing off the male protagonist who is clearly based on Willy himself, he openly takes offense to it, and a depicted relationship is so clearly based off true events that the two finds themselves a target of a lawsuit.

One of the things that you learn from Colette, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the writing industry, is just how unforgiving the whole writing process can be.

The set-design is immaculate and the locations feel real and lived in regardless of whether or not it’s set within the inner-city of Paris or the romantic French countryside. When Colette is first introduced to the upper-class social-circles of Paris one of the first things that she sees is an animal covered in expensive jewellery. Like the animal, she longs for the beauty that comes with the outside and starts to wonder whether moving to Paris was a bad idea.

Period pieces tend to drag depending on how interesting the life of the subject in question is and thankfully for the audiences, Colette had a very interesting life beyond just writing, which is interesting enough as herself. We see her as a stage actress, it corresponds with her evolving, risk-taking relationship changes. It’s a well-crafted move that keeps the mood light, and the film always entertaining.

Colette is a highly enjoyable and rewarding experience that again, just like with Widows, should be a film to watch out for at Oscar season, especially in the best actress categories.

Colette is released in the UK in January 25 2019. It has already had a limited theatrical run in the United States.

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