LFF review: ‘Colette’ reminds us to keep on fighting for equality
11 October 2018 12:44
It was towards the end of Wash Westmoreland’s Colette, during a scene in which Keira Knightley’s titular character says her final goodbye to her lying husband Willy (Dominic West), that I truly realised the importance of this film. After a career of ghost-writing the tremendously successful Claudine stories on his behalf, Knightley’s Colette delivers a speech that is harrowingly relevant today, over a century later than the dates of the real-life events. Sick of being controlled and having her voice either silenced or ventriloquised through men, she essentially tells Willy where to stick it – like thousands of other empowered women are doing all over the world today.
While it’s sickening to think that, after so much time has passed, women are still having to fight the same battles to be heard by society today, it’s also amazing to be reminded of the real Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette’s achievements throughout her life time. A Nobel Prize in Literature nominated author, who wore trousers, had multiple lesbian relationships and performed in music halls across France after eventually divorcing Willy, Collette was the kind of triple-threat pioneering feminist who would grace activist power lists and TIME magazine covers where she around today. Embodied by Knightley with wit and her signature twinkle in her eye, now is the right time to bring her legacy back into mainstream society’s consciousness.
But the whole film isn’t just a laborious feminist manifesto: there are laughs – most often at Willy’s expense – and real moments of joy when Colette has personal victories. The moment she mouths ‘I love you’ across a train carriage to her female lover Missy (Denise Gough) is particularly touching.
Biopics can be tough; people’s lives don’t often fit neatly into a 2-hour narrative, but Westmoreland does Colette justice by focusing on the pivotal moments in her life, woven inbetween cinematic embellishments that only enhance the story, rather than rewrite it. A must see during a time where it seems the battle for equality has hit a road bump, Colette reminds us why we mustn’t be deterred by recent political events. People like Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette have been paving the way for centuries. We can’t give up now.