An intriguing biography
An English film ‘Colette’ based on the life and times of celebrated woman writer from France, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, whose protagonists challenged male domination was released to critical acclaim in 2018
One of the most celebrated writers of last century, a spirited woman of many talents an author, mime artist and actress, who lived life on her own terms, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was even nominated for Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.
Most of her novels (in French translated into English as well and some made into plays and films) were semi-autobiographical, and had woman protagonists, who acted against male domination and societal norms.
An English film 'Colette' based on her life written and directed by Wash Westmoreland (and co-authored by Richard Glatzer) was released to critical acclaim in 2018.
Keira Knightly plays the role of the complex character of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette with much finesse.
The story takes back the viewers to late 19th century when a part of the society was surprisingly liberal to promiscuity and yet so intolerant and homophobic when it concerns serious same sex relations.
It also mirrors a society that believed women authors do not sell.
It is during such a time, that Gabrielle discovered herself as a writer to be reckoned with, chose to be free, and created a name for her.
Beautiful and innocent Gabrielle from a village in Burgundy, France falls in love with Willy, who calls himself a literary entrepreneur, much older to her, and much more different in his tastes and opinions.
During one of her first social events when in Paris, Gabrielle realises how unlike her, everyone is, yet, amidst being all unsure and alien in her new city, she still shows sprightly attitude, and a voice that stands for herself; qualities that take her where she is destined to reach.
Willy has many ghost writers, and once when the going gets rough, financially, thanks to his lofty ways, he asks his wife, who until then was writing letters for him, to write a book based on her childhood stories.
He rejects the draft, but eventually with some changes the book is sent for publishing. The first of the famous Claudine series, 'Claudine A L'ecole', the story of Claudine, her school, where she is from, and her affair with the superintendent – a story that was considered homoerotic - becomes a sensation gaining readership mainly among young girls.
However, when Willy does not allow her to share the credit for her next book, she refuses to write, until she is locked away and forced to write; which is where, locked up and under force she writes her next best seller 'Claudine in Paris'.
Two other titles appear in Willy's name 'Claudine en ménage' (Claudine Married) (1902), and 'Claudine s'en va' Claudine and Annie) (1903).
Willy known for his wayward ways has affairs with other women, and allows his wife to have lesbian alliances, all the more since it gives content for her books and makes them sensational, but does not like the idea of she going out with other men.
Colette finds him controlling, and selfish, especially when he sells away the rights of her Claudine series without informing her.
Eventually, Claudine chooses to separate from Willy and begins to do theatre to earn a living. She has her share of rough days but carries on.
She says she does not want things to be arranged for her anymore. She has affairs with other women; a brief one with lesbian socialite Missy, who likes to be dressed in man's clothing, creates much scandal when they kiss on stage at Marlin Rouge.
The film ends with Colette writing a book under her name, 'La Vagabonde', which became a bestseller, establishing her as a successful woman writer.
Gabielle Colette went on to write many more books, had other lovers, married and lived a full life and continued writing of dissent and inspired many to write her biographies and poetry too.
This film 'Colette', now available for online streaming is a story of liberation, inspiring in its premise and entertaining in its narration.