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"All through my life what I've loved doing is watching movies. I love the escapism of film, I love stories. So it is incredible to be able to be in them as much as I am, to see them from the first stitch in a costume to the end product."
Home » Career » Filmography | 2010-2019

Tagline: History is about to change.
Keira as: Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette
Genre: Drama, Biography, History
Duration: 112 minutes
Written by: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland, Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Directed by: Wash Westmoreland
Other cast: Eleanor Tomlinson, Dominic West, Fiona Shaw, Denise Gough
Release date: September 21, 2018 (limited)
Production budget:
Total worldwide gross:
Filming locations: Budapest, Hungary

After marrying a successful Parisian man of letters known commonly as “Willy” (Dominic West), Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley) is transplanted from her childhood home in rural France to the intellectual and artistic splendor of Paris. Soon after, Willy convinces Colette to ghostwrite for him. She pens a semi-autobiographical novel, about a brazen country girl named Claudine, that becomes a bestseller and a cultural sensation. Colette and Willy become the talk of Paris, and their adventures go on to inspire additional Claudine novels. Colette’s subsequent fight over the creative ownership of these books defies gender roles and drives her to overcome societal constraints, revolutionizing literature, fashion and sexual expression. Directed by Wash Westmoreland and written by Wash Westmoreland, Richard Glatzer, and Rebecca Lenkiewicz.

Production Info
  • The first draft of the script was written in 2001, when director Wash Westmoreland traveled to France with partner Richard Glatzer. The pair stayed in a friend’s manor house in hopes of finding inspiration. By a remarkable coincidence, the friend who had lent them the house happened to mention it to her aunt, who turned out to be close friends with Anne De Jouvenel — Colette’s granddaughter and the controller of her grandmother’s estate. They befriended her and the film was blessed with the estate’s approval. The script was honed throughout the years, with as many as 20 drafts being written.
  • Production was originally set to begin in 2016, but Keira’s daughter, Edie, was just one at the time and struggling to sleep. She asked for the shoot to be pushed back in order to be better prepared for the role. Filming began in the summer of 2017.
  • Received a Spanish ministerial commendation as “especially recommended to promote gender equality” (especialmente recomendada para el fomento de la igualdad de género).
  • It was reportedly illegal for women to wear men’s clothing during the film’s time period in France.
  • The film premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.
  • The location shoot in Budapest was so warm at times, Dominic West wore a water vest inside his heavy costume that functioned like a car radiator, circulating cool water around his upper body. The contraption was recommended to him by John C. Reilly who used such an apparatus while playing the rotund Oliver Hardy in the biopic Stan & Ollie.
  • Character Quotes
  • I can read you like the top life of an optician’s chart.
  • I know who you are, Willy. Maybe I knew it all along. But I want you not to lie to me. I want to be part of things. I don’t want to be treated like some little wife at home. I want to know what’s going on.
  • When you raise your eyelids, it’s as if you are taking off all my clothes. Don’t look away. Look at me. Look at me looking at you.
  • You duplicitous bitch.
  • Those people don’t frighten me at all. Look. Am I trembling? I will continue to pursue this because I want to, and if Paris won’t have me, then so be it. I’ll go elsewhere to make a living.
  • You hurt and you hurt and you hurt, and you think that by saying, “I’m a man, that’s what men do,” you clear it all away. What you did was not just hateful, it was stupid.
  • You killed our child, Willy. Those books… they were all we had. And now they’re gone and there’s no chance of repair.
  • Don’t tell me what Claudine was. I am the real Claudine. Everything I thought and felt went into those books. They were me. My childhood, my memories, my opinions. Everything. And when I think of the hours I spent alone, slaving away for you… churning out scenes just to try and please you, I am so ashamed of myself for that. And yet I knew and you knew… that I was bound to do it. You found me when I knew nothing. You molded me to your own designs, to your desires. And you thought that I could never break free. Well, you’re wrong. Claudine is dead now. She’s gone. You betrayed her. And I… I have outgrown her.
  • Count Muffat: Willy, married? The wild days are done, eh?
    Colette: On the contrary, the wild days have just begun.
  • Willy: So, what did you think of the salon?
    Colette: I liked the tortoise. I thought he was as bored as I was.
  • Willy: You married a literary entrepreneur. It’s a phenomenal disaster.
    Colette: You’ve married a country girl without a penny to her name.
  • Willy: Look, I’ll never sleep with her again. But you have to understand, this is what men do. We’re the weaker sex. We don’t have your strength. We’re slave to our urges. And here in the city, it’s perfectly acceptable to–
    Colette: Nonsense! I don’t accept it. You’ve been lying to me all this time. I wait for you all day long and I never ask you for anything because you say we have no money.
    Willy: It’s true. We have no money.
    Colette: Because you spend it all on her!
    Willy: I really don’t.
    Colette: And then… and then… when you get into bed, and I touch you, and I kiss you, and you say you’re too tired–No, no.
    Willy: I’ve been unattentive. I’m sorry. I’ll make amends.
    Colette: Don’t you dare touch me.
    Willy: Gabrielle, I… I gave up my inheritance for you. My bloody freedom!
    Colette: Go to hell!
  • Willy: You mean more to me than all the women of Paris put together.
    Colette: Have you sampled them all?
    Willy: Please don’t mock me.
    Colette: You’re very happy to mock everybody else.
    Willy: It’s true, but it’s just… Look, it’s just horseshit. Words are… deceptive little bastards, but if you trace mine to their source, to my bruised and aching heart–
    Colette: Well, I wouldn’t credit that as the organ of origin.
  • Willy: People love to talk. They praise you to your face, and then the moment you turn around, there’s knives in your back. I understand the mentality here. You don’t.
    Colette: Well, I understand it well enough to write a book that’s the toast of Paris.
  • Willy: I don’t know why you’re so keen on nature. Animals are vile to each other.
    Colette: Animals are honest at least. They never lie.
  • Willy: I’d suggest you change the line where Renaud says, “It was wicked of me to do it.” But I know you won’t.
    Colette: And what do you think that Renaud would say in those circumstances?
    Willy: I don’t know, something like, “Why, my dear, we were waiting for you.”
    Colette: I don’t think she’d believe him.
    Willy: Of course not. But don’t you think… she’s being hypocritical? I mean, it’s acceptable for Claudine to sleep with Rezi, but she doesn’t want Renaud to do the same?
    Colette: Not behind her back, no. The betrayal came when Renaud lied to her. Renaud, who swore he would always be honest.
    Willy: Well, perhaps he wanted to tell her, but he was… frightened of her volcanic jealousy.
    Colette: Well, then, he was a coward as well as a liar.
    Willy: You’re very harsh on him.
    Colette: If not me, who else? And Renaud would never be jealous if, for example, Claudine went off with a young man for a change.
    Willy: He would find that unacceptable.
    Colette: Oh. Infidelity for Renaud is a matter of gender?
    Willy: Yes, it is. How long have you known?
    Colette: About a month.
    Willy: Well, I must say, I’m impressed by the way you’ve handled yourself. A younger Claudine would have thrown a fit.
    Colette: I’m planning on killing Renaud off in the next one.
  • Missy: You know… you don’t have to worry about Willy. You don’t even need to earn your own money or stay in places like this. I could arrange everything.
    Colette: Too much of my life has been arranged. And I like earning my own money.
    Missy: I love you. That’s all.
    Colette: Thank you.
  • Willy: You’re overreacting. This was purely a business decision.
    Colette: Isn’t that what our whole marriage has been? Wasn’t I the best investment you ever made? No dowry, but my God, she can write for her keep!
    Willy: Well, if you were an investment, you were a highly speculative one.
    Colette: I paid you back a thousand times.
  • Quoting: Keira Knightley

    on her character: Within her writing, Colette was questioning the idea of gender and the idea of what was naturally feminine as opposed to society’s take on being feminine. The 1890s in France, the belle époque, is interesting to look back on because there was a lot of sexual freedom. Colette had female lovers and had what I suppose we would call a transgender lover. She felt that it was her right to experience pleasure and to give pleasure. That’s still a revolutionary idea for women.

    on her introduction to Colette: I think I was aware of the images of her later in life, where she has the crazy red hair and the eye makeup. I’d seen ‘Gigi,’ the musical, but I didn’t know about her. So, reading the script and finding out about that first marriage you are just telling yourself, “This is mental.” She was just this fascinating creature and the work the film is based on is also so wonderful. So, having the book, which is her voice, that’s great to have for a resource as an actress. You get to know the woman through her work and that was a joy as well. When I read this script I went, “Oh I need that, I need to see that.”

    on her attraction to the role: Colette was coolness. I was fascinated by the relationship between Colette and Willy. Wash (Westmoreland) and I clicked straight away; he very much had a vision that was clear and that was in the script. It was something that we could all hold on to.

    on researching the role: We all read Judith Thurman‘s autobiography ‘Secrets of the Flesh,’ she’s great, and what I realize is that Colette’s life, you could make a whole mini-series from it. Also, reading Colette’s Claudine novels, which were somewhat autobiographical, you could get a sense of her voice through his pen name, but she as a character was true to herself which is super rare for anyone, even today. She knew who and what she was and that’s the story of this film. Colette finding her voice, finding herself, and the fact that she did it so courageously that stepped out of this huge shadow from Willy, who was a massive chauvinist, but very famous and very successful and a big star, that could swallow up anything around him. So, the fact that she had a big enough sense of self that was like “Alright, I’m carving this space for myself, I’m making a hole in the world for me” was moving.

    on Colette and Willy’s relationship: You have to not hate Willy in order to comprehend why Colette stays with him as long as she does. I have known quite a few people who are like him. They can behave horrifically and yet there’s a charm and humor which means they can get away with it — at least for a while.

    on filming in Hungary: We were so lucky to shoot there. We were shooting a lot of day-for-night, so when you black out all the windows and light a lot of candles to pretend it’s nighttime, things get infinitely hotter. The boys had it worse because they were in tweed. Dominic West was wearing a body suit, and the crew actually had to build an entire cooling system into his costume; he would plug in a bag and it would pump around cold liquid to cool him down.

    on working with co-star Dominic West: I think the brilliant thing about Dominic West is that he has such unbelievable charisma. You want the actor that plays Willy to be the fun guy at the party, the guy you sit next to at dinner, you might not want to be married to him but you understand why she is captivated by him. So, I think that he and Colette had great fun. He’s not afraid to play characters that are horrible but he’s also not afraid to make them likable. So, I think he has the ability to not judge the people that he plays, even if he’s playing a complete and utter monster.

    on working with director Wash Westmoreland: He’s such a nice man and this story is obviously very personal to him. He’d been working on it for 15 years with his late partner Richard [Glatzer]. It was a film they both desperately wanted to make. We all knew that was the case, this has been a love story and it was coming together and the tragedy of Richard’s death and him not being able to see it be made, so we all felt like we were on a mission to do this in his honor. Wash knew the subject matter so well, you could feel that this was an obsession, and that’s very helpful actually because he’s very clear about what he wants and he’s clear about his point of view of the story and that’s great.

    Quoting: Cast and Crew

    Director Wash Westmoreland: She is one of the few people who can combine all the qualities needed to incarnate Colette: Keira is possessed of incredible intelligence and wit — which were ever-present in Colette’s writing — and an innate understanding of portraying people of past times. She was also the right age to portray a woman from the ages of 19 to 34.

    Writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Keira’s performance is startling, beautiful, and strong; it’s satisfying to hear a woman roar after being quiet for a long while. She finds her voice, and lets rip.

    Costume designer Andrea Flesch: I costumed Keira in black-and-white and kept the shapes clean and clear — not overdone like others wore in the Belle Époque. Keira becomes one with the costumes; you can forget that she is in them because she is so natural and because of the way she performs the role.

    Critical Response

    Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian:

    Colette’s life is deserving of nuance and care, and that’s what she gets in this film. She also gets Keira Knightley is top form: luminous, clever, sexy and sympathetic. The scenes of physical intimacy are tasteful and few, but have quite an impact. Much of what drove Colette was a need to be recognized. Knightley will not suffer the same fate when this film is viewed by wider audiences.

    Peter Debruge, Variety:

    Despite the fact she’s frequently cast in period pieces, Knightley possesses an enticingly modern quality in both her stride and the brazen, independent-minded way she engages with men on-screen — especially her husband (played with the bombastic charm of a true roué by Dominic West, every bit Knightley’s equal, even if his character is far beneath hers).

    Jordan Ruimy, The Playlist:

    Given the dramatic fireworks one would expect from such a chewy role, Knightley nails it with a performance that deserves awards attention. The continuous evolution of Colette requires subtle and nuanced changes in this demanding role and Knightley more than meets the challenge with some of the most exhilarating work of her career. Her chemistry with West is the heart of the film, which if done with other, less ideal, performers might have fallen down a trap of cliches and melodrama.

    David Ehrlich, IndieWire:

    Knightley is exquisite during the second half of the film, free to be both Colette and Claudine, and — more importantly — just as free to be neither. The actress makes a meal of her character’s defiant streak, crossing boundaries with a casual tut of her chin. This isn’t a righteous movie full of big speeches and soaring moments (its smirking temperament owes more to Henry than anyone else), but Knightley doesn’t need that stuff to make Colette feel like a trailblazer.

    Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times:

    The focus is on Knightley, who delivers some of her best work. It’s sometimes easy for Knightley, who’s made perhaps a few too many period films, to get lost in the costumes (for the record, they’re a Belle Époque dream, from costume designer Andrea Flesch) and prettiness of a film like this. But here she tosses aside her signature pert coolness, letting us see the flash of fire in Colette’s eyes. By the film’s end, alone on a stage gazing out at the future, she seems utterly, blazingly alive.