(director/writer: Wash Westmoreland; screenwriters: Richard Glatzer, Rebecca Lenkiewicz; cinematographer: Giles Nuttgens; editor: Lucia Zucchetti; music: Thomas Adès; cast: Keira Knightley(Cplette), Dominic West,(Willy), Eleanor Tomlinson(Georgie Raoul-Duval), Fiona Shaw(Sido), Denise Gough (Missy), Robert Pugh (Jules), Ray Panthaki (Veber), Shannon Tarbet (Meg) ; Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Elizabeth Karlsen/Christine Vachon /Pamela Koffler/Stephen Woolley/Michel Litvak/Gary Michael Walters; Bleecker Street; 2018-UK)

A women’s empowering biopic period drama that is funny.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A women’s empowering biopic period drama that is funny and has something worthy to say about women’s rights and in the way society looked upon them as secondary citizens at the turn of the 20th century in the romanticized Paris of the Belle Époque. It’s based on a true story, that’s ably co-written (other writers are Richard Glatzer & Rebecca Lenkiewicz) and directed by Wash Westmoreland (“Still Alice”/”The Last of Robin Hood”). British opera composer Thomas Adès provides the powerful score.

The young French country girl Sidonie-Gabrielle (Keira Knightley), later to be known as Colette when she succeeds as a writer, from the provincial town of Saint-Sauveur, meets the older libertine Parisian popular author, critic and publisher Willy (Dominic West) and moves to the City of Light when they marry. Hubby introduces her into the elite artist salons of Paris, where she wows the chic crowd with her gowns and classy ways. But even if he’s a success Willy’s also a big spender, a womanizer and a gambler, and is always in need of money. Anxious to make quick money by publishing, he allows his wife to give writing a try.

She is the ghost writer of a novel he pretends to write about a character called Claudine growing up in rural France. When a success, he takes full credit for writing it. Willy, again in need of funds, backs a play he forces her to write. But it fails and she uses the opportunity to buy back from her busted hubby the rights to her Claudine books. This enables her to go on to much success in vaudeville. Knightley plays this strong and passionate titular female character, unafraid to challenge male society’s privileges and unafraid to engage in same sex affairs with other liberated women such as Missy (Denise Gough). Knightley’s superb performance is brought out in the fullest by the sensitive direction of Westmoreland.

The before-her-time feminist lets us know for certain that the writings were hers alone and her bold actions were meant to be liberating in both literature and life. For Colette, who desired recognition for her achievements above all else, her message for today’s world might be “It’s the hand that holds the pen that writes history.”