There’s always something dispiriting about seeing the life of a revolutionary artist turned into a conventional cinematic biography, and that’s more or less what you get in this profile of Gabrielle Colette (Kiera Knightley), the French author and performer whose stories of a modern French girl named Claudine—ghost-written for her husband, literary entrepreneur Henry “Willy” Gauthier-Villars (Dominic West)—became an eyebrow-raising sensation in turn-of-the-century France. There are some tartly funny turns of phrase in the script—credited to Rebecca Lenkiewicz, director Wash Westmoreland and Westmoreland’s late partner, Richard Glatzer—and West turns in a lively performance as the bon vivant Willy. There’s simply a predictable, rote quality to the chronological story, which in theory tracks Colette’s evolution from simple country girl to openly bisexual celebrity with a transgender lover (Denise Gough), but misses that arc as Knightley never seems anything less than supremely confident. The French countryside is lovely, and audience members get to applaud Colette standing up for herself as the real author of the Claudine stories, but this is a life story that demands direction with more edgy vitality, rather than the patina of middlebrow respectability.
Director: Wash Westmoreland
Producer: Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley, Pamela Koffler, Christine Vachon, Michel Litvak, Gary Walters, Svetlana Metkina, Norman Merry and Mary Burke
Cast: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Denise Gough, Fiona Shaw, Eleanor Tomlinson, Robert Pugh, Ray Panthaki and Julian Wadham