Colette: French sexiness, by British people


Colette is a pretty and often engaging look at Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, the French author active mainly during the early 20th Century and nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1948.

What it is not is a 'French drama'.

Shot in Hungary and at various UK locations, produced by Brit Stephen Woolley and directed by Brit Wash Westmoreland, with two British stars, Colette never nails the feeling of 1900s Paris, nor embraces the sensuality and sexuality the subject matter lends itself towards. It feels like a free-spirited French topic, as seen through the eyes of us over the channel and the repressed up-tightness we are so famous for.

This leads, inevitably, to the unfortunate guessing game where you wonder what might have been. Were Colette's story to be put into the hands of Pedro Almodóvar or Desiree Akhavan or Olivier Assayas, to name just three tantalising possibilities, then you wonder if something all the more daring, more lascivious and in-touch with its material might have been produced.

As it is, Westmoreland (who co-wrote the script with husband Richard Glatzer, who sadly passed away in 2015) organises what is here adroitly, if not with any great spunk. The leads, Keira Knightley and Dominic West, crackle with some level of significant spark and, given that they are surrounded by a fairly thin supporting cast, Westmoreland does well to rarely let them off screen. Indeed; no-one develops significantly beyond the central pairing and it is difficult to think of a scene that does not feature at least one of the couple.

West's Willy is genius, particularly placed in our modern context, #MeToo and our muddy sexual politics. Willy is resolutely not as a monster would normally be painted, but monster he is. He controls his throng of ghost writers by ransoming their work with his name and squandering the proceeds on lavish luncheons. But Westmoreland never presents it as such. There is never the wink or the nudge that what Willy is doing is evil. He just does it. On at least two occasions he explains to Colette that his affairs are 'just what men do'. A late significant action he takes as part of the act of saving himself is so blasé that he could well simply be quaffing the copious amounts of wine he consumes in restaurants. Here is your monster of today as this film sees it; unhidden, preening, presenting what he does as perfectly natural.

Knightley is much more subtle, but her character stands up to Willy in the moments where the drama demands it. Otherwise, hers is a journey of somewhat quiet awakening, punctuated by moments that show the film's strengths and where it falls short. A passionate, physical affair at about the half way point is given the lace curtain effect and fumbled even more once West gets involved. Its resolution is punctual, without any European flinging of tables and chairs; heightened emotion made British. A later love of Colette though gets much better shrift, though it is still short. Colette, by now exploring her sexuality more fully, embraces love rather than lust and the film finds something of a comfort point; walks in French (English) countryside with meaningful conversations on gender roles and the monster in the sitting room.





By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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