Review / ‘Colette’ (M) *** and a half

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Dominic West stars as Willy and Keira Knightley as Colette in “Colette” Photo: Robert Viglasky

IN 1893, 20-year-old country girl Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette married Henri Gauthier-Villars. It was an era of change, of new sensations. Parisian society knew him as Willy. Her reputation took longer to emerge. To support them, she wrote books that Willy published under his name as author. 

This situation is not unknown in movies. A few months ago, we saw “The Wife” with a similar but fictional plot. With “Colette”, writer (together with Richard Glatzer) and director Wash Westmoreland tells a real-life story radiating an aura of authenticity.

Handsomely mounted, “Colette” pulls few if any punches in depicting a relationship between a wife with a zest for life and a husband 15 years her senior who lived in fashionable circles with expensive tastes that he couldn’t always afford.

Willy is long bypassed except as a footnote to Colette, whom he professed to adore but didn’t back that with performance. History will remember her for the more than 50 novels about what “Time” magazine once called “quietly desperate women in love and in bed” that she wrote, based on her own experiences, best sellers still being read or even being made into movies (“Gigi” was filmed twice).

Westmoreland’s film concentrates on the years of Colette’s marriage to Willy (Dominic West) and a collection of moments in her later life. Willy is a sort of villain, perhaps one to be pitied as much for his emotional and material dependence on her as abhorred for the selfishness that accompanied that adoration. Infidelity flourished on both sides of the bed. Colette swung both ways. She and the Marquise de Belbeuf, a niece of Napoleon III and known in society as “Missy” (Denise Gough) had an enduring relationship. 

The best for last. Keira Knightley’s portrayal of Colette, a real-world heroine confronting and overcoming obstacles that threatened her survival, dominates the film, sublime, a strong candidate for peer acclaim and professional honours.

At Dendy, Capitol 6, Palace Electric

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Dougal Macdonald
“CityNews” film reviewer

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