Director/screenwriter Wash Westmoreland (Still Alice) told me at the film’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival that Knightley was an “obvious choice” to play Colette, who flipped the literary world on its ear at the turn of the 20th century. That said, a very 21st-century technical snafu nearly derailed the film.
“I was desperately trying to pitch the project to Keira, and we were chatting on FaceTime when I realized that the battery of my iPhone was dying,” Westmoreland told BW. “I was down to 2 percent power, and I finally blurted, 'You’ll do this better than anyone else alive.’" She shouted back to me, 'Yes! Let’s do it!’”
Two years later, Colette debuted at both the Sundance and Toronto film festivals to rapturous reviews. It “dazzles the senses,” wrote Rolling Stone. People magazine crowed that it’s one of the twice-Oscar-nominated Knightley’s “finest performances.” The Wall Street Journal called the film “sumptuous,” and the New York Observer called Colette, “the best period movie in years.”
“I felt that I, as a woman, could tap into Colette’s story,” Knightly told BW following the Toronto premiere. “It has the ring of truth.”
Born 145 years ago at time when the light of most women’s aspirations were hidden under a bushel, Colette was barely 20 years old when she authored the first of the four wildly popular Claudine stories. But husband Henry Gauthier-Villars, who used “Willy” as his nom-de-plume, took full credit (and the profits) for the books. The film takes flight as Colette reclaims her voice and, concurrently, her sexuality. To be sure, Colette earns its R rating: Knightly's character turns both heads and beds lovers in turn-of-the-century Paris as the film proceeds.
- Bleeker Films
Colette ends relatively early in the author's professional life. She ultimately married three times, was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948 and, perhaps most famously, penned Gigi, the bestselling novella that was the foundation of one of the greatest movie musicals ever filmed.
Do I hear somebody asking, “Is there a sequel here?” Perhaps, Colette, the Later Years? Yes, please.