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Film Of The Week Colette's rousing call to arms

MARIA DUARTE recommends a biopic on the legendary French writer's struggle against sexism

Colette (15)
Directed by Wash Westmoreland

WITH Glenn Close’s empowering Golden Globe winner’s speech calling women to follow their dreams still ringing in my ears, comes this fascinating biopic about France’s most celebrated female author.

As I was watching this enthralling costume drama I could not help but draw parallels between Close’s character in The Wife and the real-life Sidonie-Gabrielle — the “Colette” best-known for her novella Gigi — who was completely ahead of her time.

The film shows how Colette (Keira Knightley) at barely 20 married Willy (Dominic West), a renowned bachelor 14 years older than her in 1893.

Recognising her talent, he persuaded her to write novels under his name but when her books about the adventures of the risque teenage Claudine took the French literary world by storm — even sparking a lucrative line in Claudine merchandise — she asked for accreditation which her husband refused.

Wash Westmoreland’s compelling and richly layered drama explores the abusive power Willy held over Colette, whom he had groomed and moulded, in a marriage that was more of a business partnership. She wrote the best-sellers while he took all the credit and world adulation.

The film focuses a sensitive light too on Colette’s lesbian affairs, which the womanising Willy encouraged along with her foray on the music hall stage. It was a truly unconventional marriage.

West is sublime as the charismatic but slippery and slimy Willy while Knightley, still the reigning queen of costume dramas, is truly magnificent as Colette. In her most nuanced and emotive performance to date, she blossoms from a sweet and naive provincial ingenue into a full-grown radical feminist who reclaims her self worth, her independence and her literary works.

Despite Willy’s claims that Colette would never make it as a writer due to her gender, after their divorce she went on to publish over 30 novels and collections of short stories under her own name and was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948.

But, more importantly, she fought fiercely against her husband to win back the authorship rights to her novels.

An inspiring biopic about a truly extraordinary woman.

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