Mini British Film Festival Review: "Colette" starring Keira Knightley
With the hype of the royals in Australia rampant in the air, many were keen to gather at Palace Cinemas Paradiso to catch the premiere of Colette on the opening night of the Mini British Film Festival 2018.
Directed by Wash Westmoreland, the 2018 biographical film is a tribute to the life of the acclaimed and controversial French novelist, Colette. While it may have seemed a bit odd for a British film festival to showcase a French context, this did little to mar the film’s striking end message.
With depictions of the gaping French countryside, we are introduced to the feisty Colette (Keira Knightley) — who is every part the picture of youth. With her childish braids and all, Knightley is almost too overgrown for her role. However, as the 19th century setting quickly reveals, Colette is about to leave her carefree lifestyle to pursue a marriage with her older lover and literary icon, Henry Gauthier-Villars (Dominic West) who, fittingly, also goes by the name of Will.
Faced with the thrills of the Parisian lifestyle, her husband’s creeping infidelity and underlying sexism, Colette begins to navigate upper class society under the close supervision of her husband. Beside the witty one-liners and his larger-than-life charm, Willy is revealed as a manipulating and hypocritical man who pressures her into ghostwriting entire semi-autobiographical novels for him.
As the books fly off the shelves and strike an emotional cord with young women — who have finally felt as if they have been given a voice — Willy alone claims its overwhelming success. (It’s an ironic theme indeed, when recounting the amount of times in history where white male authors have attempted to dictate the representation of the female condition.) Regardless, the writings are well and truly in hands, but its power is one that is only known and exists inside the four walls she is confined to. All too soon, she is drained of her spirit and succumbs to a carnal lifestyle to drown out her unhappiness.
While the tone of the film remains lat at first, it does take a very unexpected turn.
As we travel through the decades into the early 20th century, Colette begins to question her sexual fluidity as well as her position in society as a woman. Slowly but surely, she finds ways to reclaim herself and embrace her multi-faceted identity. As she learns, she is much more than just a trophy wife; she is a literary genius, a creator of art, a passionate lover and a woman fighting for creative ownership.
Finally, the film ties it all together with Colette breaking free from the exploitation by her husband. In the process, the character finds beauty in her own self-worth as she redefines the notion of ‘femininity’ (and makes a few memorable alliances along the way).
As if this wasn’t all enough, there’s a intriguing pantomime subplot that arises — and I promise you’ll have to see it yourself to savour its quirky charm.