American films

Why Keira Knightley feels so empowered by new film Colette and its female lead character

Actress reveals how she was inspired by the real-life story of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, who stepped out of the shadow of her husband to find her own voice

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 October, 2018, 12:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 October, 2018, 12:50pm

Keira Knightley brought her period biopic Colette to a wet London red carpet on Thursday, saying she felt “empowered” by the story of the French novelist who gave the film its name.

The 33-year old, known for other costume dramas including The Duchess and Pride & Prejudice , portrays Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette during the early part of her life.

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The story kicks off when she leaves her Burgundy village in late 19th-century France to marry older writer Henry Gauthier-Villars, known as Willy.

Colette ghostwrites for him what becomes a successful and trendsetting novel, then pens several more under pressure from her husband. The film follows Colette as she has gay love affairs and eventually fights Willy for the books’ rights.

“I feel unbelievably empowered by this story because it’s a story of a woman who steps out from the shadow of a man and finds her own voice and lives her own truth and I found that incredibly inspiring,” Knightley said at the premiere of the film at the BFI London Film Festival.

Knightley, who has a young daughter, made headlines this week after she penned an essay on childbirth for the book Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (And Other Lies). Some outlets accused her of criticising the polished looks of Prince William’s wife Kate Middleton as she came out of hospital soon after labour.

“I think it’s very interesting that certain parts of the media have … misrepresented my meaning and exactly what I said,” Knightley said.

“The comments that I made … are completely about our culture that silences women’s truths and forces us all to hide and I absolutely didn’t shame anybody in any way, in fact quite the opposite.”

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The Pirates of the Caribbean actress was joined on the red carpet by her co-stars, including Dominic West, who described Colette and his character Willy as an “early exponent of the celebrity couples”.

“They were the Kim [Kardashian] and Kanye [West] of their day and every party wasn’t a party until Colette and Willy turned up,” he said.

Director Wash Westmoreland said the movie was long in the making.

“This film has taken 17 years from writing it to getting on the big screen,” he said. “It was originally from my co-writer, co-director and late husband Richard Glatzer, so to see his name on the big screen again really means a lot.”