When you think of costume dramas over the past decade or so, it’s probably a safe bet that you also think of Kiera Knightley. The queen of the costume drama/period piece, she often does her best work while in those sorts of outfits. This week, she adds another one to her cinematic closet, as it were, when Colette opens. In some ways, this is a traditional role for her, while in others, it’s much more modern than you might expect. However you slice it, this is a solid flick with a tremendous performance by Knightley. She’s heads and tails the best part of the movie. Moreover, it’s just her movie.
The film is a period piece, of course. The substantial plot synopsis provided by Bleeker Street is as follows: “After marrying a successful Parisian writer 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 witty and brazen country girl named Claudine, sparking a bestseller and a cultural sensation. After its success, Colette and Willy become the talk of Paris and their adventures inspire additional Claudine novels. Colette’s fight over creative ownership and gender roles drives her to overcome societal constraints, revolutionizing literature, fashion and sexual expression. Directed by Wash Westmoreland and written by Wash Westmoreland, Richard Glatzer, Rebecca Lenkiewicz.” Yes, Knightley plays the title character, who evolves from a farm girl, to a frustrated wife, to an unacknowledged literary sensation. Through it all, she goes up against West, with sparks often flying. It’s a costume drama, sure, but also one with wit and a very modern sensibility. Wash Westmoreland directs a script that he co-wrote with his late partner Richard Glatzer, as well as Rebecca Lenkiewicz. In addition to Knightley and West, the cast includes Robert Pugh, Fiona Shaw, Eleanor Tomlinson, and more. Thomas Adès contributes the score, while the cinematography is by Giles Nuttgens.
Knightley is as good as ever here. It’s a captivating role that stands tall among her career works. Along with West, the acting really puts this one above and beyond. He’s very good, but she’s better. In fact, she’s rarely been better. For my money, it’s easily top three for her. The film does suffer from that annoying tic of showcasing in on screen text elements of the story that would be enjoyable to actually see portrayed. That dings the movie a bit, but Knightley and West (especially Knightley) make up for it. Her sparks makes this a consistently compelling flick.
Here is how I would rank Knightley’s ten best performances to date:
10. A Dangerous Method
9. Anna Karenina
8. The Imitation Game
4. Never Let Me Go
3. Pride and Prejudice
1. Begin Again
Honorable Mention: Bend It Like Beckham, The Dutchess, The Edge of Love, Last Night, and Love Actually
Starting on Friday (or more appropriately, tomorrow), audiences can see Knightley knock it out of the park again when Colette opens up. If you love Knightley, you’re almost assured of digging this too. The film is a charmer, light and fun, yet also somewhat sad, and undeniably relatable to modern times. Nobody does a costume drama like she does, so this period piece is another home run for Knightley. Her fans are in for a treat. As a small bit of adult entertainment, this more than does the trick. Give it a shot and you’ll see what I mean, especially when it comes to Knightley…
Be sure to check out Colette, beginning its theatrical run this weekend!