Based upon the life of French novelist Colette, Kiera Knightley delivers a greatest performance to date. The biographical drama, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival both delivers on historical context and interesting conversation. It delivers a piece of art that is both entertaining and intriguing in the history it depicts but ultimately is just frustrating in how close its final cut was to perfection.
Set in the dawn of the 20th Century in Paris, it tells the humble tale of one of the greatest writers in French history, although that took many a decade to be discovered due to the, now so common theme, of male dominance and sexism in literature publishing. In our time, a world now open to the topic of female empowerment and equal pay (not that we have reached those goals), this film feels correctly timed in reminding the world what happens when we silence and steal from women. Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was a pioneer and a brand in her own right but never fully felt the power of her success due to her gender and her life choices. The strong LGBT theme throughout this film is a huge strength of the movie and is depicted extremely well.
Dominic West is Henry Gauthier-Villars, the enemy of the film and indeed the enemy of true equality. His performance is both vulgar and rude but brilliantly done. Henry is both a man who is honest in his flaws and lies, yet manipulative and exploitative. At times, you detest him more than any man you’ve ever seen on the screen. Kiera Knightley more than ever, dominates her screen time with Mr West, but their relationship is very well illustrated. Not many times in her career have I felt a relationship she was involved with to be real, but this one out shines the rest.
Another small performance that deserves a mention is Eleanor Tomlinson as Georgie Raoul-Duval, the sexual toy of both main leads. Her Southern American accent and mannerisms are superb! Her rise from ‘Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging’ to critically adored cinema is complete, keep an eye out for her in the future.
The ultimate issue with this film and why you won’t see it winning Oscars (could be down to the fact ‘The Favourite’ is both a period biographic LGBT drama) will be due to its horrendously fast paced story telling. The life of Gabrielle Colette should been portrayed delicately and with time, even a Netflix TV show wouldn’t be enough. So to try and cram the life and mystery of one of French culture’s greatest characters into 120 minutes, is too much. They leave out important aspects of course, but it always feels too rushed. You jump from year to year, city to city within minutes and never fully reaching an emotive connection because you never have the time to stop and love. This is not down to editing but down to script and production. They could have cut down some scenes from the arc of the relationship with her family or husband, to focus on the later relationship with Denise Gough’s Mathilde de Morny, aka ‘Missy’. It’s hard to connect with a cinematic offering about their relationship when it feels like you can’t blink or you’ll miss a conversation. Colette need’s to be a 5 hour epic or at least a series of films, to match her beautiful novels.
This film is still worth noting and dedicating your hours to, the performances are impressive and in other years would have earned some critical wealth with the award winning voters. Kiera Knightley produces and Dominic West looks at home with a huge belly and ugly beard. My favourite character, Gaston Arman de Caillavet played by the wonderful Jake Graf, deserves his own autobiographical film. If you wish to see beauty and charm with some frustrating politics, Colette is yours.