Colette is a biopic of the eponymous early-20th-century French author, one of the most popular woman writers in French history. It’s a fairly straightforward “hidden woman” biopic for the most part, following Colette (Keira Knightley) and her early marriage to Willy (Dominic West), an author, publisher and libertine. Willy published novels written by Colette under his own name; her semi-autobiographical character, Claudine, found wide success in French culture. Colette, engrossed in the artistic and intellectual circles her husband traveled, started her own relationship with other women and fought hard for recognition for her authorship. Her later life saw much recognition for work on the stage and further literary material.
Knightley’s great, and there is some good material here about her dalliances with other women / growing perception of the world beyond rigid gender norms. One of Colette’s real-life legends was her onstage kiss with another actress that became a huge scandal. That happens here, as do so many of the moments you can find pretty readily on Wikipedia — such as the instance where Willy locked her in a room until she would finish writing or her realization that, after their divorce, he punitively and short-sightedly sold all the rights to Claudine. The actual story here is less engrossing, essentially a checklist albeit never boring by way of its ceaseless forward motion to get through all the good stuff and make room for the mild sex-romp comedy stuff in the second act.
The best parts of Colette are when it dispenses with the heavier elements of the story — the droller, costume-drama bits, the fairly standard “this is what it was like then” bits — and lets Knightley and West play together within the confines of their unconventional relationship. The two are both having fun in their roles. Both are fundamentally likable actors who don’t necessarily get their due. As risible as Willy happens to be, West makes him an enjoyable douchebag of the highest caliber.
So it isn’t a dry and emotionless costume drama; it’s also not an expressive and devastating one (like I found last year’s Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman to be last year, just to throw out another poppy LGBTQ “untold story” biopic). Colette sits someplace between, a movie worth watching if you’re already a fan of the performers or want to see Knightley play a woman telling her douchebag husband to go fuck himself while also making out with other ladies and dressing in some excellently sewn period costumes. And, like, maybe that’s all you really need?