Colette is filled with secrets and meetings that counteract and layer the story in a wonderfully evasive way
The period drama is no longer a strict and rigid genre. By design it appears as a prim and proper session of damsels in corsets and heroes in top hats, and there was, for a long time, an expectation upon period dramas to supply the same tried and tested stories with little change or genuine excitement. This is of course absolute rubbish, but it says a lot for how these films are viewed by society. They were essentially a safe bet, and by the war of attrition, the period drama blinkers have proverbially, and periodically, been worn away.
Colette is such a marvellous example of a story with boundless energy, fire in its belly and a personality of infinite resolve. It is the elongated and overarching tale of an incredible woman coming of age and finding the true personality that resides within her.
Gabrielle Colette (Kiera Knightly) is a young woman living in the French countryside, enamoured by the famous theatre and music critic Willy (Dominic West). After moving to Paris together, Colette soon realises Willy’s work is a collaboration of many different writers, signing their work off under his name. Dragged into the facade herself, Colette begins writing novels under his name as well, despite the work being based solely off her opinions, viewpoints and her own personal childhood.
Wash Westmoreland’s dramatisation gives Colette a true platform of spectacle in a film he has been trying to release for 16 years. Imagined originally with his late husband and co-creator Richard Glatzer, the film has been a long time coming, and Westmoreland certainly deserves plaudits for enabling the project to move off the ground and to its eventual completion.
Colette is filled with secrets and meetings that counteract and layer the story in a wonderfully evasive way, and features intimate and vivacious scenes that bring out the excitement, especially during the second act. The film is completely unafraid of its critics, and that does it a great service as a genuine and powerful production.
Yet, far too much of Colette’s life is explained as simple actions and secret movements. This is a woman who was proud of who she was. The battle with Willy is posed beautifully and profoundly, but nowhere near enough of Colette’s euphoria of finding herself is projected from the screen. These events took place at a time when women as bold as Colette did not get many opportunities to shine, and that is why her story is quite so marvellous.
It’s certainly difficult to convey, and the film isn’t worsened by its position, but there’s absolutely a missed opportunity to ramp up the excitement and the scandal. After all, scandal is what Willy and Colette thrived upon as a pair, and without that turned up to the maximum level, the film falls somewhat back into the classic period drama archetype.
Even ten years ago, Colette would have been a much more revolutionary picture than it is now, and it is perhaps this 16 year old vision that has stopped it from becoming the controversial piece it could have been. However, the story has absolutely hit upon a an incredibly important message around gender politics that sits so fore frontal in the current political world its poignancy is all the more impressive and relevant.
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