We're at the BFI London Film Festival, being inspired by Keira Knightley and her new film Colette.
DetailsAddress: 5-6, Leicester Square, London WC2H 7NA
Phone: +44 (0)20 7255 1444
Based on the true story of French author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette and the “Claudine” series that she ghost wrote for her husband, Colette directed by Wash Westmoreland (Still Alice, Pedro & Velvet Goldmine) is a beautifully told coming-of-age story about finding independence in an age of female suppression.
The story begins in Saint-Sauver in 1892 where a young Gabrielle (portrayed by Keira Knightly) is living with her parents, dreaming of running away to the city with her much older suitor, Henry Gauthier-Villars (Willy) played by Dominic West. Skip forward to 1893 and a newly wed Gabrielle is struggling to fit into her new life in Paris, where her cheating husband has her living under his shadow and ghost writing his letters, she learns that “everyone is playing a character”.
On the verge of bankruptcy, Willy encourages her to write his next novel based on stories from her childhood, growing up in the French countryside, leading to the best selling Claudine which he forces her to continue as a series, literally locking in her in the study while taking full credit, telling her that “women writers don’t sell” and refusing to add her name to the books. Proclaiming “I am the real Claudine”, Gabrielle discovers that sometimes you have to play a character to find the confidence to be yourself.
Changing her name to Colette, she steps out from her husband's shadow and begins pursuing a new career in the theatre, dating women and embracing her independence in a way that would have been shocking and scandalous for the time. One of the most striking aspects of the film are the costumes which perfectly portray the passing of time and growing of confidence, transitioning from innocent young Gabrielle’s frilly lace dresses to Colette’s bold masculine suits.
Jealous and ever bankrupt, Willy does everything he can to squash her ambition so that she'll stay and write for him, spitefully saying “you’re at your most brilliant when you’re with me”. The final blow comes when he sells the rights to Claudine to pay off debts, leading to divorce and the realisation that she was the one who held all the talent.
Though sadly women still face similar issues today, the story has a happy ending, as Colette went on to write over 30 novels and became the most celebrated French author, proving that she who “holds the pen writes history”.
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