Colette

Colette is a biopic about the French author of the same name. It details her early life through her marriage, when she wrote the Claudine stories. It details her growth from a sheltered young girl to an accomplished writer and performer.

Colette stars Keira Knightley as Colette and Dominic West as her husband Willy. She is a young girl from the country; she met Willy through their parents. Even from the start there is something off about the marriage. She is significantly younger than him, and when they start making a home in Paris his friends are incredulous and he almost immediately begins, or continues, affairs. Willy, a member of avant garde artistic circles, has set himself up as a literary brand, without appearing to do any of the writing himself. Unfortunately, his expenses such as his mistresses, exceed his income. Eventually he presses Colette into writing for him and she turns in what becomes the most successful book published under his name, as well as several equally popular sequels.

There is an interesting give and take between Colette and Willy. At first he is the worldly teacher, introducing her to his literary, libertine set and setting the rules for their relationship. He can have affairs and he doesn’t mind if she does, so long as it is with other women. In private he praises her work on the Claudine books, but is sure to keep up the appearances that he is the one who wrote them. Soon, however, Colette outgrows him. She is the talented writer, he is just the name on the book. Rumors swirl about her role in the writing, but Willy remains the credited author, framing his success as their success, though it is truly her’s alone. When he stifles her and refuses to grant her the credit she deserves, she refuses to write for him, instead taking up dance. She also start a relationship with the gender-fluid Missy, whose masculine presentation skirts her unfaithful husband edicts.

Colette’s story is one of perseverance, of growth and change. Willy’s is one of stagnation. Instead of giving Colette the little she is asking for, credit for her work the biggest thing, he grips it so fiercely out of fear of losing anything that he loses Colette completely. The movie gets you to believe that that the two of them truly loved each other for quite some time. That their relationship was fruitful for both of them, but with each turn Willy shows his smallness more and more, up until the final betrayal.

Colette’s life continued long after the time frame of this movie, but this movie does a great job of showing this chapter of her life, of her going from a wide eyed farm girl to an experienced and worldly woman and celebrated author. The strong performances of Knightley and West really make this movie work, first as a simple romance, then a tragic one and then finally the story of her ascension.

****

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