Skip to main content

Colette Featurette Flips 19th-Century Gender and Sexuality Norms on Their Head

"Women writers don't sell."

We couldn’t be more excited for Wash Westmoreland’s Colette, starring Keira Knightley absolutely murdering it in a suit.

Recommended Videos

Colette stars Knightley as the famous French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette in turn-of-the-century Paris, which the director describes as “the center of the world.” The movie appears to focus on Colette’s early years, when her wildly popular Claudine stories were published under her husband’s imprint, with their authorship ascribed to him. “She was the talent and he got all the credit for it,” Knightley explains.

In the feature above, Knightley (looking positively smashing in a suit and tie), and the movie’s cast and creatives guide us through some of the ups and downs in Colette’s life and the sexism that she faced in attempting to own her own narrative.

The film also takes a look at the nature of celebrity and, intriguingly, the birth of a sort of Claudine proto-fandom. Knightley discusses how Colette is sometimes credited with creating the modern teenager via her frank literary examinations of young women’s sexuality, calling her “groundbreaking”  and someone who “lives totally by their own rules.”

Denise Gough in Colette

We also hear from Denise Gough, who plays Missy, Colette’s longterm lover and sometimes stage-partner. A kiss between the two onstage once nearly caused a riot in 1907; times have changed, and haven’t. “She’s a very brave, brilliant character,” Gough says of Colette. “It’s about empowering young women.”

Throughout the featurette, we see Colette shift from a sheltered country girl with two long braided pigtails to a fashionable theatrical sensation to an independent woman rocking a bob and a suit and tie. Even just the fashions on display in this film look to be outstanding.

Keira Knightley in Colette

The movie, set more than a hundred years ago, feels as pressing and important as ever. “You still all the time get, ‘female writers don’t sell,’ ‘female directors don’t make films because they’re not going to make money.’ You get that all the time,” says Knightley. “We do what we’re told and we follow the rules of our society, and she [Colette] very much broke them. She would be as extraordinary today as she was back then.”

Here’s the synopsis of what to expect from Colette:

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.

The movie hits theaters on September 21st.

(image: screengrab, Bleecker Street)

Want more stories like this? Become a subscriber and support the site!

The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]


Kaila Hale-Stern
Kaila Hale-Stern (she/her) is a content director, editor, and writer who has been working in digital media for more than fifteen years. She started at TMS in 2016. She loves to write about TV—especially science fiction, fantasy, and mystery shows—and movies, with an emphasis on Marvel. Talk to her about fandom, queer representation, and Captain Kirk. Kaila has written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.

Filed Under:

Follow The Mary Sue: