- Katherine McLaughlin
- 11 October 2018
LFF 2018: Keira Knightley is fantastic in Wash Westmoreland’s saucy biopic
Based on the life of bisexual French literary icon Colette, this biopic from Wash Westmoreland (Still Alice) is, at points, as frisky and fabulous as the woman herself. As famous as Rihanna in her day, Colette inspired a fragrance and became a valuable role model and idol to many women. The film takes the viewer through her life – from her peaceful existence in the country with her mother, to her wild days in Paris at the turn of the 19th century, following her marriage to Henry Gauthier-Villars (played here by Dominic West).
Keira Knightley delivers a fantastic performance in the title role. Though the film can’t always keep up with her larger-than-life turn, especially when it moves away from her daring and alluring swagger, it still has a cheeky likeability. West has fun with a role that is mostly a sideshow, twirling his moustache and rubbing his giant belly as he gently manipulates Colette into becoming a ghost writer. He’s not painted as a villain exactly, but as Colette’s confidence grows his behaviour becomes rapidly dastardlier.
It’s easy to get whisked up in Colette’s sexual revolution, with the narrative moving to a similarly saucy beat as Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet. As she finds her voice through theatre and writing, the film takes on a more playful tone and watching Knightley flirt with anyone she takes a fancy to makes for gloriously entertaining viewing. With each personal change comes a brilliant new look, with the costumes to die for from Andrea Flesch. And, from petticoats to three-piece suits, Knightley works every one of the outfits.
In a film all about reinvention, it’s a shame Westmoreland doesn’t take heed from the courage of his ravishing protagonist and adopt a more adventurous approach himself. Still, once Colette takes flight it delivers a pleasurable rite of passage about a woman striving for independence.
Screening on Thu 11, Fri 12 and Sat 13 Oct as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2018. General release from Fri 25 Jan.
- Directed by: Wash Westmoreland
- Cast: Keira Knightley, Eleanor Tomlinson, Fiona Shaw
- UK release: 25 January 2019
Colette fights to have her literary talents recognised, after her husband forced her to write novels under his name.