Filmmaker Wash Westmoreland first wrote Colettethe story of Nobel Prize-winning French novelist Sidone-Gabrielle Colette, back in 2001. The script went through 15 drafts, and three title changes: Colette and Willy, All She Wrote, and The Real Claudine before he settled on Colette. 

Why the long wait? Other productions kept landing on his schedule, however, there isn’t a better time than now for the Time’s Up era to hear the story of Colette, whose voice was silenced by her husband, Willy. She was part of his writing factory and she conceived the bestselling Claudine books about a brazen witty French country girl (not unlike herself). Colette asked Willy for her pen-name to appear on subsequent novels after they became a hit and he refused. She ultimately left him, and embraced the lesbian life she wanted to live in early 20th Century Paris.

Elizabeth Karlsen and Wash Westmoreland
Shutterstock/Rex

“It’s built up to a zeitgeist, a critical mass,” says Westmoreland about Colette‘s arrival to cinemas. Bleecker Street is handling the movie in the states where it has accrued $2.4M after four weekends in platform release. Another plus about the film’s delay to the screen is that Westmoreland got to meet Colette’s granddaughter in France who provided insight into various drafts. The film will makes its premiere in Paris in January. In bringing authenticity to the film’s LGBTQ themes, Westmoreland cast trans-men and trans-women in various roles in the movie.

At a London Film Festival Screen Talks session yesterday, Keira Knightley said one of the reasons why she was drawn to the role was Westmoreland’s dedication and knowledge about Colette herself. “Anybody who is so passionate about something and so knowledgeable, that’s a safe pair of hands to dive into the character with,” said the two-time Oscar nominee.

“She was a survivor, and I find survivors fascinating; for some survivors there’s a moral ambiguity, and I think she has that and it was delicious to dive into,” added Knightley yesterday.

Westmoreland said that Knightley “was the obvious choice” especially after watching the actress years ago in Pride and Prejudice. “She has this direct emotional power that turn Mr. Darcy into shreds and we knew she could do the same for Willy,” added the filmmaker.

Says Westmoreland who also appeared on stage at Deadline’s London Contenders with producer Elizabeth Karlsen, “Anyone who is facing barriers in life socially and politically, you can turn yourself into a battering ram (like Colette) and break through.”