Shy, pig-tailed Gabrielle Colette’s (Kiera Knightley) world is turned upside down when she is wooed into marriage by an older family friend, a successful Parisian writer named Henry Gauthier-Villars, known as “Willy” (Dominic West). After moving to Paris, Willy starts by having his wife write his personal letters for him. It turns out he has built his writing career with ghost writers who pen his stories and reviews. He then encourages and later forces Gabrielle to write a spiced-up autobiographical novel of her childhood adventures, which he publishes under his name.
After becoming a bestselling sensation, he forces her to write about their life together, which inspires other stories in the “Claudine” series and even goes on to become a play. Willy revels in the fame and financial gains that come from the phenomenal success of her writing and will not share credit. My favorite quote in the movie was, “The hand that holds the pen writes history.” My movie buddy Carolyn felt that West perfectly portrayed the Machiavellian Willy. We were both interested in this movie because it was based on a true story, but were amazed by the progressiveness of France during this time period.
This true historical drama showcases the sexual free thinking of France in the early 1900s; while Willy has affairs with other women, he doesn’t mind if Collette, as she now calls herself as her will is progressively strengthening, is involved with other women. She tries to fight for creative ownership, but to no avail. The last straw in their relationship is when Willy sells the rights to the Claudine books and Collette divorces him and goes on a stage tour and continues to have a successful writing career on her own. She is best known for her novella Gigi, which defied all the rules of the 1900s, even for Paris. It was made into a 1951 Broadway musical starring not-yet-famous Audrey Hepburn, and then an Oscar-winning 1958 film. Collette is considered the most successful female French novelist. She went on to marry three times and lived to age 81.
Knightley shines in this Indie coming-of-age story of a feminist pioneer with the cinematography perfectly capturing the mood of this period film. Knightley has recently taken time off after the birth of her daughter Edie. But if you are a fan, she will be appearing in three more films this year with another historical drama The Aftermath, the anthology Berlin, I Love You, and Disney’s new fantasy feature The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.
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Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Director: Wash Westmoreland
Written By: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland, Rebecca, Lenkiewicz
Actors: Keira Knightley, Eleanor Tomlinson, Dominic West,
Running Time: 1 hour 51 minutes
Rating: R for sexuality/nudity