Try though it does to tell the tale of French fin de siècle novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette’s troubled marital journey, Wash Westmoreland’s brief biopic suffers from a clunky narrative form that never allows its characters to exist beyond two-dimensional qualities.
In life, Colette was a novelist, actress, journalist and bi-sexual woman; in this film she is reduced to playing martyr/victim of a greedy man.
A by-committee screenplay (by three writers) is to blame. Two screenwriters can work exquisitely together because they each have to stand up for their beliefs, but must also be able to compromise responsibly. With three writers, two are always going to gang up on one; it’s not a healthy environment for creativity.
It is frustrating to watch Kiera Knightley struggle with a role to which she seems so well-suited. More irritating is Dominic West’s weakly overbearing portrayal of Colette’s roustabout author husband Willy. West gets caught “acting” on more than one occasion, perhaps because his character’s motivations are so muddy. It would be a tall order for any actor to elevate such dramatically flat source material.
“Colette” fails even as a generic period drama because it doesn’t dare show what truly drives its characters’ carnal passions. Willy is a selfish horndog, Colette is a gifted author with lesbian leanings. Colette’s would-be girlfriend has the charisma of a piece of wood. There you have it, a movie that was doomed before the first day of filming began. Tragic.
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