Keswick Film Club - Reviews - Colette

Reviews - Colette


Reviewed By Vaughan Ames

There were 163 people who came along last Sunday night to see if the press reviews for 'Colette' were justified by the actual film. I guess the two main stars – Keira Knightley and Dominic West – had something to do with the popularity as well!

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was a French country girl who we first meet in the late 19th century, when she is already being courted by Henry Gauthier-Villars, better known as Willy - a famous author of sorts, albeit mainly with ghost-writers doing most of his work for him. He soon whisks Gabrielle away to Paris and marriage; she soon realises that he is a libertine and a spendthrift: they will be broke however much money he can make. As part of his desire to make more money, he recruits Gabrielle as another ghost-writer – 'Aim for four hours a day' – writing a titillating story of schoolgirl, Claudine, based on her own life. What surprises him (and her) is that she has talent, with Claudine becoming a national bestseller and phenomenon, causing young women to dress and act like her.

Gabrielle is not content to be 'just a wife behind the scenes' and wants her name adding to the books, which Willy refuses. When she in turn refuses to write more, he simply locks her in her bedroom until she continues. It is at this point that she branches out; she has affairs with young women while Willy is bedding young Claudines. When Gabrielle (now calling herself Colette) finds out that Willy has sold the rights to the Claudine novels, she finally leaves him and scratches a living as a music hall performer, writing (now under her own assumed name) about this period of her life in 'The Vagabond'.

The film ends here, leaving us with some screen notes about her future career as one of the best and most successful female French novelists, eventually nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948.

So was the film as good as the critics said? Certainly the acting was, with both Keira Knightley and Dominic West being outstanding. The feminist politics was there too - the now almost unbelievable subservient position Colette found herself in when first married and how she refused to accept this – although the film made a lot more of her lesbian affairs than her feminism. I did find myself gripped by the plot, if only to see if Willy got his comeuppance! The audience gave it a high vote too, so I guess it must have been pretty good...but I can't seem to lose the feeling that maybe it wasn't quite as good as we all felt, even if I cannot put it into words.

Overall, a good night out, certainly, a memorable film, maybe not...

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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