Arts movie review

A dramatic take on the famous French novelist

Although an interesting view with gorgeous scenes and excellent acting, the film dragged at some points

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Married couple Willy (Dominic West) and Colette (Keira Knightley) sit together in a scene from the film 'Colette.'
Courtesy of Bleecker Street (Robert Viglasky)

Directed by Wash Westmoreland
Screenplay by Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland, Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Starring Keira Knightley and Dominic West
Rated R, Now Playing

Nowadays, trailers have the annoying habit of giving away too much of the movie. Comedies give away the funniest bits, and action movies give away the best fight scenes. So after watching the trailer for Colette, I suppose I was expecting the same. I was expecting a nice historical drama with emotional, heartfelt scenes and the heroine finally breaking free in the end. The trailer gave away nothing. To an extent, Colette was partially that, but since it was based on a true person, it was as complicated as real life tends to be.

Colette follows the first marriage of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley), a famous French novelist. While Colette grew up in the countryside, she married an author and publisher known as Willy (Dominic West) and moved to Paris. As she adjusts to the elite social life, she must also contend with her rather lewd husband Willy. The scenes I appreciated the most in this movie were those in which Colette doesn’t take excuses from Willy and instead matches him in wit and fierceness. But that same quality I liked also confused me. Colette seems like a very independent women to start with, yet she endures Willy publishing her work and stealing the credit, even to the point where he locks her in a room to force her to write. Colette and Willy agree to an open relationship of sorts, and Colette is free to explore her interests. I agree with how one character puts it, saying: “It’s a long leash he gives you, but it’s still a leash.” Then again, life is complicated.

The characters really come to life on the screen through the acting, and none more so than Keira Knightley as Colette. Knightley is able to show Colette’s independence and fierceness wonderfully and her jokes and mannerisms with ease. The setting is also beautifully done; from the elegant countryside to the cobblestone streets of Paris, no scene feels out of place or in the wrong era.

While I liked the dramatic scenes that developed the relationship between Colette and her husband, a lot of the drama was overshadowed by the more scandalous scenes. Lots of affairs obstruct their marriage (on both Willy’s and Colette’s sides), and the directors don’t leave it at two people smiling seductively at each other and then disappearing behind a closed door. They show these scenes in full detail, and there are a lot of them (hence the R rating). While a few of them were fine and even necessary, I felt that there were far too many that took up too much screen time to be justified. So while Colette was an interesting portrayal of a complicated life, at times the plot gets too bogged down between the bedroom sheets.