Period pieces tend to all run together for me as if every director was inspired by Jane Austen. They mostly have the same costumes, the same settings, and go through the same motions. A good portion of them star Keira Knightley as well. Colette is different, although it does indeed star Knightley. Exploring sexuality, independence, and female empowerment, Colette delivers a refreshingly modern take of the turn of the 20th century.
Colette (Keira Knightley) lives the simple life on her family’s farm when she is introduced to the writer Willy (Dominic West), and the two fall deeply in love with one another. Despite his name being on all his novels, Willy employs a team of ghost writers to work for him, although his latest works have struggled to fly off the shelves resulting in more and more debt. Colette has always had a way with words so Willy has her start writing for him, and she introduces Claudine to the world, under Willy’s name of course. Claudine becomes a hit and Willy becomes an overnight success. Tensions between the couple rise as Colette starts demanding recognition for her words while Willy enjoys all the fame and glory.
To say that Willy and Colette have an interesting relationship would be an understatement. While their romance starts off rather normally things escalate quickly when as Colette freely explores her sexuality among both men and women. Willy is enticed by her attraction to other women so they come to a mutual agreement. Colette makes a bold statement about the early 1900s with its exploration of sexuality and the role that men and women play in society. Everything is out in the open between Willy and Colette; which is both good and bad.
My main problem with the film is that it likes to jump forward quite often, resulting in a story that can feel rushed and repetitive at moments. Willy and Colette will be deeply in love but then a fight will set them at wits end with each other. Flashforward a year or two and they’re right back to being in love again and all is well. Rinse. Repeat. There’s little time given to the moments between their love and hate for each other. Even though years have gone by, it’s still only seconds in the theater. At one point Willy locks Colette in a room until she produces a certain number of pages. Furious with him, she finally gives in. Shortly after, we see the success of her writing thanks to a quick time jump, with any conflict from that moment erased.
Despite my issues with the pacing, Colette was still enthralling to watch thanks to some wonderful performances by Knightley and West. The film is constantly changing the dynamic of their relationship as there are moments where you will either love or hate each of them. Ultimately this is Colette’s film, as evident by the title, and her story is well worth watching.