Wash Westmoreland’s latest film Colette was the dying wish of his late husband, Richard Glatzer, who wished to bring the powerful true story of Colette to life. The film is incredibly personal to Westmoreland, it is delicate, powerful, meaningful and a feast to lay your eyes upon.
The story is based upon the remarkable true story of the French novelist Colette, the film heavily focuses in on power, sex, class and acceptance in an exploitative world. Colette (Keira Knightley) is exploited by an older so-called gentleman named Willy (Dominic West) an ‘entrepreneur’ from Paris, who in his hunger for money and power brings out novels written in secret by his now-loving wife Colette under his own name.
The film boasts two incredible powerhouse performances, Dominic West as Willy is utterly charming and captivating, with a strong sense of distrust that lingers as he makes incredibly selfish and harming decisions throughout. This sense of trust and distrust in Willy is crucial in your reaction to the very racy and extremely questionable moments compared to the intimate and lovingly natural interactions with Keira Knightley’s Colette. Keira Knightley is utterly engrossing and grows from a fragile and innocent girl into a wise and commanding figure in her lovingly soft nature that is ever present. The power dynamic of the two shifts heavily with them having such great natural chemistry as scene partners in both moments of love and hatred.
There is an ever present feeling of authenticity in the sharp and nuanced writing that builds layers in the complex nature of those seen, nothing is cliche or stereotyped. The sexual relations that Colette experiences influence Willy’s risqué ‘Claudine’ novels that he edits from the more literary writings of Colette and Willy allows her relations to women as he isn’t initially threatened yet that is his downfall, his pride and masculinity in overlooking their relationship as she grows as a woman.
It is a gorgeous experience for the eyes and ears, with the awards-worthy costume design from Andrea Flesch to which we are greeted with a feast of ranging designs yet it is Colette’s subversive fashion that shines, perhaps an overlooked icon she was way beyond her time. In terms of the feast for your ears is the mesmorising score from Thomas Adès, truly romantic, sumptuous and layered it is beyond engrossing and is without a doubt one of the year’s best scores. The marriage between what you see and hear since its inception in the early 20th century as told in ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ shines heavily in the elegant string work and the tender piano keys that pushes the entire film in the movement and progression bringing a naturalistic reality in the dramatic breakdowns of the characters.
Colette eventually meets Mathilde De Morny (Denise Gough) who doesn’t find herself confined to gender, a true-life partner who inspires Colette along her later journeys to which they stage a rather outrageous (at the time) Egyptian stage play at the Moulin Rouge. They are met with criticism from the marquess of Paris, chucking chairs in disgust as they elope. She would never perform again, but Colette would continue.
The hand that holds the pen writes history as Colette wins the case for the ‘Claudine’ novels and writes ‘Vagabond’ which would go on to forge herself as a prolific female icon, away from the ever-present patriarchal oppression of society.
The film is a grand success, its funny, exhilarating, inspiring and nuanced. Wash Westmoreland’s costume-drama is a treasure to not be missed.