Image Credit: Denise Gough as Missy and Keira Knightely as Colette courtesy of Robert Viglasky/Bleeker Street
Acclaimed new film Colette celebrates the life of iconoclastic French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, with Keira Knightley garnering rave reviews for her portrayal of the country girl turned literary and cultural phenomenon.
In 1893, a 20 year old Colette married famous writer and playboy, 35 year old Henry Gauthier-Villars (Dominic West), known professionally as Willy. He introduced Colette to the salons of Paris and used her as one of his ghostwriters. Her loosely autobiographical, homoerotic 1901 novel Claudine At School became a sensation, as did the other three books in the series, which were all published under Willy’s name with all profits going to him.
Willy regularly indulged in extra marital affairs and encouraged Colette’s attraction to women. Defying gender roles and societal expectations, she fought for creative ownership of her work, left Willy in 1906 and struggled to support herself by working as a dancer in music halls.
During this time Colette was largely funded by her girlfriend, noble woman and artist Missy - Mathilde de Morny, (Denise Gough) who was an out lesbian who chose to dress like a man.
The couple lived together from 1906 – 07, until they caused a near riot by kissing on stage during a production. Even though they could no longer live together, their relationship continued until 1912.
Colette continued to write and became acclaimed as France’s greatest female author. She was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948 and was the second woman to become a grand officer of the Legion of Honor.
At a recent screening of the film at New York's Museum Of Modern Art, Knightley talked of her passion for the role.
“The story spoke to me. I wanted to know about that woman and her story because I really connected to it. I haven’t written any novels like Colette, but I understood the feeling of being silenced and having a voice that isn’t as loud or appreciated. Every woman has empathy with that."
“It’s amazing to see a story of a woman who stepped out from behind the shadows, stood tall, carved a hole in the world for herself, and lived without shame. It’s who I want to be.”
Colette is in US cinemas now, screens at the London Film Festival in October and will be released in Australia in March 2019.