When discussing the genre of period biopics a few actors instantly come to mind: Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett and Helen Mirren. However, none have burst onto the scene and become such a staple in the genre like Keira Knightley has. After her breakout performance in Pride & Prejudice, Knightley has gone on to star in a new biopic every few years with this being her first since 2014. Could Colette be her ticket to nabbing the elusive Oscar?
Synopsis: After marrying a successful Parisian man of letters known commonly as “Willy”, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette is transplanted from her childhood home in rural France to the intellectual and artistic splendor of Paris. Soon after, Willy convinces Colette to ghostwrite for him. She pens a semi-autobiographical novel, about a brazen country girl named Claudine, that becomes a bestseller and a cultural sensation. Colette and Willy become the talk of Paris, and their adventures go on to inspire additional Claudine novels. Colette’s subsequent fight over the creative ownership of these books defies gender roles and drives her to overcome societal constraints, revolutionizing literature, fashion and sexual expression. (Elevation Pictures)
Starring: Keira Knightley, Eleanor Tomlinson, and Dominic West
Writers: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland, and Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Director: Wash Westmoreland
Rating: R (United States)
Running Time: 111 mins
The story follows the life of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Knightley) who is whisked away to Paris by her new husband, a popular author named Henry “Willy” Gauthier-Villars (West). Forced to ghost write her husband’s novels, Colette creates a semi-autobiographical story that resonates with audiences making her husband, herself and her character “Claudine” household names. As she finds her husband pushing away from her, Colette hopes to explore who she is as a writer and a woman by reclaiming what is rightfully hers.
This film is above all a vehicle used to try to nab Keira Knightley the Oscar. Her personable and charismatic performance leads this story in only a way that her commanding presence in a period piece could. This is complimented by a career-best showing by Dominic West as her complex and thoroughly flawed husband. This and their relationship help to elevate the story to a very interesting character study on the dynamic between a couple as perceived love turns to business in an ever-evolving partnership.
However, that is about the extent of the script’s positives. The script fails to add anything new to this genre as it is a by-the-books storyline that loses its initial intrigue after it delves into genre cliches. The biggest issue with the script is its terribly unexplored themes. This is a film that should have made an impact with a story that echoes the sentiments of the Me Too movement, but it somehow manages to throw its extremely relevant themes on the backburner for more generic storytelling.
This issue might have been attributed to the script if not for the subpar and relatively bland direction by Wash Westmoreland. This is seen through the pacing issues throughout the film as the director is unsure how outside the period piece mold he should venture. The film lacks any sort of authenticity pushing it farther away from the truly unique and powerful story it’s trying to tell.
Colette is a cookie-cutter period piece that falls flat as it fails to hit on the importance and relevance of this biography. While the charismatic lead performances and character relationships help to elevate the film’s story, the narrative finds itself dealing with terrible pacing issues, unexplored themes and an overall generic feeling void of any authenticity to make this woman and her life really stand out. This film is a standard Award season drama tied together by the climactic “Give me the Oscar” speech that fills the quota of Keira Knightley period dramas for the next couple years.
On top of writing reviews for this site, I also post video reviews on my YouTube channel The Film Fanatic where we post other content like countdown videos, movie recommendations, script analyses and more.