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.

 

Saving Mr Banks deeper than a remake of Mary Poppins

Review by Brenda Daniels

I rushed off to the preview of this film thinking it was a remake of Mary Poppins, an alternative take on this well-loved tale, seen from the viewpoint of Mr Banks, the father character in the original story. Well, it was that and it wasn’t.

On the surface, Saving Mr Banks is the story of how Walt Disney eventually obtained the rights during the 1960s to make P L Travers’ book, Mary Poppins, into the Disney musical starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Emma Thomson stars as the crusty 60-odd year old Pamela Travers alongside Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.

Travers proves to be a very difficult-to-please woman, and fights with the scriptwriting team at every turn, declaring outright that the film would NOT be a musical nor would there be any animation. Baffled by her demeanour, Disney and his team persist, treating Travers with kindness despite her rancour.

Disney, who had longed to make the film for 20 years, begins to see past the author’s outward resistance to what she really holds dear – the memories of her childhood, and in particular her relationship with her father (finely portrayed by Colin Farrell). And it is this story, woven into the fabric of the book and eventually the Disney film, which forms the underlying one of Saving Mr Banks.

The original Mary Poppins story remains unchanged. Seeing Saving Mr Banks won’t alter that. But attributing elements of the book, and the eventual screenplay to the author’s personal struggle, does give the audience a different view on the story. Saving Mr Banks has depth and sensitivity, is well acted, and gives a plausible explanation for how an author’s personal life can affect her writing.

I loved it.

This British-made film opened at Cinema Nouveau theatres in South Africa on 21 February 2014.

Saving Mr Banks event at Walt Disney studios display picture. Julie Andrews,  Walt Disney and Pamela Travers. (Source: Creative Commons)

Saving Mr Banks event at Walt Disney studios display picture. Julie Andrews, Walt Disney and Pamela Travers. (Source: Creative Commons)