Bizarre, Fascinating Story of a Writer

After seeing Keira Knightly in The Nutcracker and The Four Realms https://wp.me/p4c1s1-tx I wasn’t excited about seeing her in Colette. But she does much better in her role in this adult film than she does in the former one for children.

Colette is the story of true-to-life author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette and her writer husband Willy (Dominic West). The pair had a strange relationship. Willy moved in well-known social circles in Paris while Gabrielle (as she was known) was a ‘country bumpkin’. Willy wasted money on gambling, women and entertaining and was constantly scrabbling to put out a best-seller to cover his debts. To do this he gathered a team of people who wrote for him. Gabrielle was drawn into this stratagem and this was how her writing was ‘discovered’.

Colette – as she became known – wrote about her own youthful experiences – with some poetic licence – and Claudine the character was born. In the mid-1800s the ‘novel’ started to become popular but was considered something only women would read. Willy was at first disparaging of his wife’s writing but in desperation he submitted the manuscript to his publisher under his name and the book was a hit. Colette continued to write book after successful book in the Claudine series.

As Willy took the accolades Colette stood back and watched. Sounds like Big Eyes you say, the story of painter Margaret Keane who painted well-received pictures while her husband took the credit. But, no, Colette is different. Colette herself was complicit in the arrangement and didn’t try to wrest control from Willy – at least not for many years. The two worked together to make Claudine successful, which also involved them bizarrely ‘living out’ Claudine in order to make the writing authentic. Amongst other things, to do this, Willy took up with a mistress, and Colette experimented with lesbian sex.

As Claudine the story matured and discovered its identity, so too did Colette the person. While Willy remained the immature, self-centred individual that he always was, Colette outgrew him.

Colette is a fascinating – if weird – story of a writer who became enormously successful in her own right. The film opens in South African cinemas on 7 December 2018.

 

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