When the Textiliste and I shared our first flat, we discovered the delights of Marks & Spencer’s ready meals. Precooked meals that you could reheat were hardly novel – Vesta curries had been around for a while – but these hinted a certain sophistication. One that I still remember was their seafood pasta with its multi coloured strips of pasta and prawns and chunks of cod in a creamy sauce. It took us a while to realise an essential truth about this dish – it was always the same. Every time it looked the same, had the same amount of pasta and fish in it and each tasted identical to the last. And that realisation killed my love for it.
Keira Knightly reminds me of that meal. She is a good actress but, and here’s the thing, she’s always the bloody same. Not the same like Sean Connery who played every part as a grumpy Scotsman even when he was meant to be Irish or quintessentially English, but her anger, her happiness, her frustration and her sadness are portrayed in identical ways. It’s almost like she’s a bit too middle class to really let it go, to surprise us. If Waitrose taught acting…
And this film is a bit like that too. Bland. It centres on the life of Colette the famous French author, and her relationship with her husband Willy and how he manipulated her, effectively stole her early books from her. Willy, played well by Dominic West, equals bad; Colette, aka Keira K equals good.nonce we’ve nailed that dichotomy we can pop out to the bar and come back for the credits
Yet when I first heard about Colette – at university I think – it was as someone who didn’t so much as break barriers as marmalize them, someone who became a feminist icon. But for all the talk of scandal here you’d not know she’d done anything more socially improper than serve M&S ready meals and pretend they were her own.
This has the feel of an old fashioned biopic, centring on the main relationship (it’s not really – I mean you’d not expect Trevor Howard to hump Greer Garson without one foot kept on the Persian or for Margaret Rutherford to method act an orgasm). It’s essentially inward looking, though. The impact Colette had on the wider society, on the women around her is mentioned as one might hear mention that Megan Sparkle has bought a new set of tupperware which has sold out. It’s off stage, almost an incidental. A bit of gossip affecting other people. Not that relevant. But that’s the point these things mattered – they still matter – they should have been front and centre but they were anything but.
We meet Colette’s long term love, Missy a brave example of gender confusion. We see Colette, apparently a respectable society women, performing on stage in the music hall. But we get no insight into how her writings, her behaviour had a wider impact on the society around her.
Nope, that’s not the theme the director wants us to take away. The big message is how an old duplicitous, lying toerag of a bloke exploited the young and naive Colette and how, finally, she breaks free. Is that what Colette is to be remembered for? Is that all? Hasn’t that been done to death by others and better?
Of course that remains an important message but I’d hazard a guess that Colette herself would have rather hoped a wider canvas could have been used.
Shame Really. She’s got nice cheekbones.