Pantsuits and Power in “Colette”


Dir. by Wash Westmoreland
Released Oct. 12, 2018

Keira Knightley, the reigning queen of the period drama, trades ball gowns and corsets for a bob haircut and pantsuits in her new film Colette, directed by Wash Westmoreland. “Colette” tells the story of the prolific French novelist and actress Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, and her life with her husband Henry Gauthier-Villars, whose nom de plume is Willy (Dominic West).

The film explores Colette’s role in her husband’s publishing house. In particular, the film follows the publishing of Claudine, a novel ghostwritten by Colette under Willy’s name. The novel receives critical acclaim and shoots Willy to fame. While churning out two more Claudine novels, Colette herself becomes something of an icon among the French society set, inspiring women across the country to dress and cut their hair like her. The character of Claudine, too, becomes a household name, with a plethora of home goods falling under the name. As Claudine becomes more of a phenomenon, however, Colette and Willy’s marriage grows rockier and rockier. They both begin affairs, Colette’s affairs being with women, and Claudine becomes a cause for animosity rather than celebration.

Knightley portrays Colette with a quiet, quivering power; a woman learning the capabilities of her own voice by the power of the pen. Colette’s desperation to receive credit for her work shines through in tendrils of unexpected force and defiance, eventually leading to a blow-out confrontation between her and Willy where she gives an epic speech that solidifies her as a force to be reckoned with.

Ultimately, Colette demonstrates the tenuous lines between work, love, and becoming a powerful woman of the world, and she does it all while wearing pants and embracing bisexuality. Knightley, in a standout performance, captivates viewers from the very first scene and lets us root for someone who we at first believe to be an underdog — only to be gratifyingly proven wrong.

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