Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Wash Westmoreland’

Colette *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 19th January, 2019

coletteFin-de-siecle Paris is often depicted as a decadent playground savoured by the likes of Oscar Wilde, but the period was also one of great technical innovation, from the building of the controversial Eiffel Tower in 1887 to the introduction of electricity in middle class homes. Interestingly, both feature in Wash Westmoreland’s lyrical biopic, Colette, helping to signal the time; as for place, the film is not alone in finding that Budapest today offers more authentically “Parisian” staircases and interiors. The story is at first a portrait of a marriage, between the critic Henri Gauthier-Villars (who wrote under the pen name “Willy” and employed a small stable of impoverished younger authors to ghost his stories, while he enjoyed the literary salons and amorous liaisons of the city) and a pretty, nature-loving young country girl, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. Parisian society was at first sneering at this ingénue, who had brought no dowry and who bristled at the extravagant pretensions of le beau monde. But soon the young wife displays not only a free spirit but a creative one as well. Determined not to be constrained to the domestic life of a dutiful wife she starts to write herself, and although at first Willy derides her efforts soon he accepts that she has talent and starts publishing books, in his name, that are essentially her work, with just a few of his own tweaks here and there. A series of effectively autobiographical novels featuring “Claudine” become best-sellers and Colette (as she now calls herself, symbolically reclaiming her maiden name) is no longer satisfied to have Willy take all the credit. She has also become less tolerant of his arrogance and bullying, his endless philandering and profligacy, while herself engaging in affairs with other women, notably the cross-dressing aristocrat Mathilde de Morny, “Missy”. The marriage is doomed but a new literary star is born and and a feminist blow against male chauvinistic piggery has landed with effect. This is indeed a feminist film, albeit directed by a gay man (touchingly dedicated to his recently deceased husband and collaborator Richard Glatzer), but it does not preach. Instead it allows the story to gently unfold against a background of luscious canvases, both rural and urban. Keira Knightley magnificently conveys Colette’s evolution from country girl to creative talent; one so engages with her performance that one accompanies the character along her journey of discovery, empathizing at every twist and turn. Dominic West is also effective as the caddish Willy, a puffed-up peacock who is occasionally shaken by moments of insecurity, self-doubt and pure panic. The story of Colette has been told on film before, but not nearly so well. Westmoreland succeeds brilliantly. not only in the narrative of an amazing life but also in producing a beautiful work of art.

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