Colette (2018)

As French cultural icon Colette, Keira Knightley charms and shocks in 19th century Paris in Wash Westmoreland’s intriguing biopic.

Elle ne regrette rien

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Not the usual heritage biopic as you might have assumed, as the eponymous Colette Keira Knightly gives us a fascinating picture of the growth of an independent spirit, ahead of her time, from girlhood to womanhood.

Countrygirl Gabrielle-Sidonie Colette (with Fiona Shaw in yet another mother (Lizzie role) married the much older writer and entrepreneur Henri Gauthier-Villars, known as ‘Willy’ (Dominic West), and he was her ticket to Paris and its bohemian delights in the Belle Epoque. When Willy realised she had a writing talent, he published her work, and that of his writing factory, under his own name, since at that time a female author would not have been published.

Colette’s sensational novels became the toast of France. Under Willy’s whip, she churned out more and more until she finally rebelled and insisted on her own identity. Finally tired of Willy’s compulsive infidelities (he encouraged her own lesbian ones as grist to her writing mill and at times they even shared the same lover, Georgie Raoul-Duval (Eleanor Tomlinson)), she divorced him amicably to go on to lead her own rather rackety life as a writer, becoming a French cultural icon, a performer in her own scandalous theatrical spectacles and settling into a loving relationship with cross-dressing Missy (Denise Gough), the Baroness Mathilde de Morny, who lived as a man, boldly wearing trousers at a time when it was illegal for women to do so.

Knightley grows with the role, going a long way towards creating the charismatic creature that Colette must have been, a woman who lived life on her own terms and in the end got away with not just flouting convention but bending it to suit herself and living as she wished.

Colette screened at the BFI London Film Festival and is released on 11 January 2018 in the UK.

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