Literate, insightful and charming, “Colette” aspires to be more than a biopic; while offering details about its subject, it also paints her as both a feminist and a pioneer of queer visibility, an activist for both causes simply by her unwillingness to live inside the accepted conventions of her time.
Keira Knightley is exquisite as Colette. Her growth from a worldly teenage girl to independent woman is charted with confidence and sensitivity, avoiding the expected tropes of most coming-of-age melodramas and instead illuminating the evolution of an extraordinary personality. As Willy, Dominic West provides the charisma and larger-than-life bravado necessary to make him a worthy match for such an exceptional partner.
While “Colette” highlights the issues of being a woman and of being queer in a heteronormative patriarchal culture, it still manages to feel so traditional that we can easily forget we are watching a film about a boundary-pushing icon who delighted in turning societal norms upside down.
Wash Westmoreland has made a very “proper” film, perhaps in spite of himself; what could have been a gloriously irreverent celebration of transgressive expression comes off instead as almost stodgy at times, although ultimately there’s much about it in which to delight.