Colette is is the story of the French author, focusing mainly on the period of her marriage to Henry Gauthier-Villars (or “Willy”). It boasts high-profile leads, including Keira Knightley in the title role and Dominic West as Willy. Two of the supporting cast who I really enjoyed in their roles are were Fiona Shaw as Colette’s Mother, and Mathilde de Morny as “Missy”, Colette’s lover.
Early on in the film, we see the building of Colette’s and Willy’s relationship – he is much older, and more experienced than her and we are shown that right from the start their relationship is passionate even before they are married. Once married, and in Paris, Colette soon learns the truth about how Willy lives – making his money by running a writing “factory” churning out reviews and cheap novels.
They soon experience financial difficulties, mainly due to his womanising and gambling, and he puts her to work writing down the stories she has told him previously about her school days. The Claudine books are born, all published under Willy’s name because he feels that they would never be as popular if people knew they were written by Colette . Due to the salacious content of the books, they become instant hits, although never earn enough money to cover the expenses of Willy’s lavish lifestyle.
The stories in the Claudine novels are also inspired by Colette’s and Willie’s lives, for example their escapades with an American debutant (Eleanor Tomlinson) who Willy encourages Colette’s affair with, whilst also secretly sleeping with her himself. Colette’s relationships with women are one of the few areas of their relationship where she is allowed some freedom, although she also ends up carving out her own career on stage and we are shown her upsetting the audience during a performance by kissing Missy, losing the last of the money which had been used to finance their act and effectively spelling the end of her marriage. Collette finds solace in her relationship with Missy, and gains her independence, also being forced to leave Claudine behind her as Willy had sold the rights to the books.
I found the film a really good insight into the life of this fascinating woman, whose semi-autobiographical books Cheri and Gigi had always made me curious about her. Reading more about her, the film only just scratches the surface but I’m really glad that she’s been represented so vibrantly on the big screen.