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‘Colette’ is a sweeping literary epic (review)

October 12, 2018

‘Colette’ is a sweeping literary epic (review)

CLEVELAND, Ohio – In many ways, “Colette” is the French, turn-of-the-century version of “A Star Is Born.” And it’s better told and acted.

“Colette” is the biographical story of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, who is widely considered France’s greatest woman writer. She was born in 1873 in a rural village in Burgundy and lived most of her adult life in Paris. She died in 1954. In 1948, she was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. She was also an actress and journalist.

As a young girl, she married Henry Gauthier-Villars, who was 14 years her senior and was a “literary entrepreneur” who used the pen name “Willy.” He used ghostwriters for much of his work. After they married, he promptly put his wife to work penning autobiographical novels about the fictional heroine “Claudine.”

They became runaway best sellers and made Willy quite wealthy and famous. There were four “Claudine” novels, and the last two examined marriage and alternative sexual lifestyles. Willy encouraged his wife to pursue lesbian affairs and write about them.

Keira Knightley is terrific as Colette. She does a wonderful job portraying the writer’s transformation from quiet country girl to sophisticated Parisian literary icon. Dominic West – you might remember him from the last season of “The Wire” – is perfectly creepy and despicable as the pompous and duplicitous literary fraud and financial con man.

Their open marriage was shaky at best. But when Colette demanded to have shared authorship and he refused, it blew the relationship out of the water. They divorced, and she began writing and publishing under her own name. She quickly went on to the literary fame and fortune she justly deserved.

“Colette” is a lush, absorbing and sweeping literary epic.

REVIEW

Colette

Who: With Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Denise Gough, Fiona Shaw, Eleanor Tomlinson and Robert Pugh. Directed by Wash Westmoreland.

Rated: R.

Running Time: 111 minutes.

When: Opens Friday, Oct. 12.

Where: Area theaters.

Grade: B+

 

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