Highlighting a strong female character was an easy choice for “Colette” director Wash Westmoreland, especially in today’s #MeToo era, but it was the character’s queer identity that he was even more intent on featuring.
“I am a queer filmmaker, and with my partner Richard Glatser, who I wrote this with, we always looked for stories that combined the straight world [and] the queer world,” Westmoreland told Variety at Friday’s Beverly Hills premiere. “There are queer people throughout history, and they have relevance, and they have agency, and this is their story.”
“Colette” tells the story of a renowned French writer of the same name (Keira Knightley) who must reclaim her voice after ghost writing for her husband. Along the way, she becomes involved with the musical scene in France and begins exploring several relationships with women, showcasing a character that is fully at peace with her bisexuality.
The period piece is not Knightley’s first, but the character she portrays is quite different than anything else she has played before.
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“I connected to that feeling of not having been heard, and I think what’s so wonderful about this character and that woman was that she lived her life without shame; she lived it unapologetically,” Knightley said. “When there wasn’t space for her in the world, she made a hole in the world and made it accept her, and I love that.”
But that doesn’t mean Colette would get behind today’s #MeToo or Time’s Up movements, which seek to create similar opportunities for women.
“Collette was an individualist; I don’t think she would have been part of any movement,” Knightley said. “But you know I think that you have to look at her and go, ‘What she did was extraordinary,’ I’m just not sure she would have done it for anyone else.”
Following the pink carpet, the premiere took a melancholy turn as Westmoreland introduced the film by sharing the inspiration behind his passion for the project. After his partner was diagnosed with ALS, his mobility became more and more limited until he was almost completely paralyzed by the time the 2015 Oscars arrived. In fact, it was in the ICU where Westmoreland and his partner celebrated Julianne Moore’s best Aatress win for their movie “Still Alice.”
Afterwards, Westmoreland asked his partner what film he wanted to do next, and using his big toe to type a response, he spelled out the letters “C-O-L-E-T-T-E.” A few days later his partner passed away, and it was then that Westmoreland said he “knew what [he] had to do.”
And although it has been almost 17 years since the film’s inception, he said it has only increased in relevance ever since.
“Some scripts, when you have them for a few years can gather dust and start to feel that they are no longer in touch with the times, but with ‘Collette,’ it was the opposite,” he said. “Her character’s fearless approach to gender and sexuality has made the story more current with every passing year.”
“Colette” is set to enter theaters Sept. 21.