Edmonton ‘18 Review: ‘Colette’ Is an Empowering and Modern Period Piece

Once again, Keira Knightley is out there giving a powerhouse performance in period clothes, but this time, she replaces the corset with a dapper suit. And Colette may just be her best performance yet. Knightley plays SidonieGabrielle Colette, one of the most celebrated French novelists of all time. But her famous Claudine novels were never always her own. As a woman, she was forced to hide behind her novelist husband’s name and watch him get all the glory for her work. But, as the film shows, she fights back – for her work, and for her name.

Colette is a badass that has slipped the minds of many, but Wash Westmoreland’s film, despite taking place in the late 19th-early 20th century, is timely, as women are still fighting her fight. Fighting for equality, a voice, and the right to be individual. Many of Knightley’s past characters have worn the accessory of asphyxiation, but right out of the gate, Colette’s refusal to conform to the traditional female dress of Belle Époque high society is just one of the indications that the audience is in for a “We can do it!” kind of narrative.  

Colette follows the period in the writer’s life when she was married to writer Henry “Willy” Gauthier-Villars. We see the sexual drama of their marriage and Willy’s newfound success as a writer after he asks Colette to write a series of books based on her school days. The Claudine novels became an almost overnight success, transforming into a national brand with young women lining up for the latest in Claudine dresses, beauty products, cigarettes – you name it, they had it. While keeping inside her talent from the world, she flourishes outward in this story of identity.

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Knightley and Dominic West as Willy in ‘Colette’ © Bleecker Street

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