Keira Knightley seems like the right person to play the heroine of “Colette.” But the drama about France’s most celebrated female author is hardly original or mesmerizing.
Checking off boxes on the “egocentric husband and creative wife” screenplay list, director Wash Westmoreland makes Colette little more than a victim of circumstance.
When her husband, a boastful writer who wastes money on appearances, decides to submit Colette’s manuscripts as his own, she agrees. When they become best-sellers, he downplays her contributions and basks in the attention.
It’s a familiar situation that takes an interesting turn of events to remedy. Westmoreland, unfortunately, doesn’t capitalize on the more lurid aspects. He plays it all very matter-of-factly and winds up with a film that’s hardly as luxurious as its costumes and sets.
As Willy, the grabby husband, Dominic West seems like a blowhard you’d find in a soap opera. He wastes money on entertaining and doesn’t think twice about cheating on his benefactor.
She accepts plenty of it and agrees to write a sequel to the acclaimed “Claudine” even though that means being locked in a room until she’s finished.
Keeping up appearances, he spends money like it was somehow tainted.
“Colette” has its share of sex scenes, but they’re not lurid, considering both Willy and Colette woo the same woman (Eleanor Tomlinson). The parallel affairs prompt great material (for her books) but lack the kind of tension that could make this a juicy romance.
She gets an opportunity to state her case, but it’s not enough for a declaration of independence. Instead, that requires a financial transaction that hardly seems like the last straw.
Title cards fill in the later years of Colette’s life and, frankly, they seem more fascinating.
A more nuanced leading man might have helped the film; a screenplay that didn’t paint by numbers definitely would have.
“Colette” pretends to be a Merchant-Ivory epic, but it’s really just “Dynasty” in period clothing.
Knightley can play these roles for the rest of her life – there are plenty of stories out there – but she should pay attention to the writing. As Colette discovered, men can inject the mundane in a story that teems with possibilities.