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Film Reviews: Colette, Stan & Ollie, The Front Runner

Avant-garde existence: Dominic West and Keira Knightley in Colette - tap pictures below for trailers

The Big Release


(15) ★★★★✩

KEIRA KNIGHTLEY in another costume drama may sound a bit of a snore. However, this timely biopic of Colette, the transgressive, pansexual French writer of more than 80 books, including Gigi (which became an Oscar-winning musical), and who lived from 1873 to 1954, is not only a unique corset-ripper of a story but gives you a career-best Keira.

So often stiff and pointy on screen, the Atonement star comes alive in a role that chimes with her own feminist values. Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Knightley) was still a country girl with long plaits when she met her husband, ‘Willy’, aka Henry Gauthier-Villars (Dominic West), a fruity, older libertine who whisked her away to the wicked salons of Belle Époque Paris.

Serially unfaithful (‘it’s how men are,’ he tells Colette), Willy is fun but he’s also a narcissist and exploiter. When he discovers Colette can write he literally locks her in her bedroom until she pens a series of novels based on a naughty schoolgirl called Claudine, which Willy passes off as his own work. This goes on for years, during which time Claudine becomes a craze — everyone has Claudine-branded haircuts, outfits and perfume. All the while, Willy and Colette become the toast of Parisian society, famed for their escapades, including a three-way affair with a flame-haired American heiress (Eleanor Tomlinson in erotic scenes that will send Poldark fans all a-quiver).

This lasts until an empowered Colette forms a relationship with an aristocrat (Denise Gough) and calls ‘Time’s Up’ on Willy’s antics.

Colette’s trailblazing, avant-garde existence feels squished into a movie’s limited running time. And there are some self-consciously historical lines, such as ‘Eiffel Tower — for or against?’ in a script co-written by director Wash Westmoreland (Still Alice), his late husband, Richard Glatzer, and Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Disobedience).

Still, if The Favourite left you hungry for more saucy lesbian action with lip-smacking period costumes, Colette will provide more intriguing pleasures.

The Verdict

This pansexual period biopic is remarkable, captivating and utterly fascinating

Stan & Ollie

(PG) ★★★★✩

Slapstick comedy legends Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy live again thanks to two uncannily accurate and tender portrayals by Steve Coogan and John C Reilly. The muted setting comes with in-built poignancy — it’s Britain in 1953 and, with their Hollywood stardom already long faded and their partnership bitterly estranged, the two men awkwardly reunite on a UK nostalgia tour that sees them play to half-empty houses in the regions.

Yet Stan & Ollie is far from the downbeat journey it might sound. Not only do the classic, lovingly replicated comedy skits still hold up wonderfully (prepare to exit the cinema straight down a YouTube wormhole in search of the originals) but the script fizzes with one-liners, mainly delivered by the duo’s wives (Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda), who fully deserve their own spin-off sitcom.

However, it’s the bittersweet bromance between Stan and Ollie that provides the story’s beating heart. This tribute may beat to a well-worn narrative drum but it’s sure to extract both a tear and a smile.

The Front Runner

(15) ★★★✩✩

If you’re looking for an actor to play a smooth, bouffant-haired, well-meaning politician, Hugh Jackman is the man for the job. All smiles and sincere handshakes, his version of US politician Gary Hart in The Front Runner is as charismatic as the man himself — especially where the ladies are concerned. The senator was in the running as the Democratic presidential candidate in 1988, and might have become president had allegations of an extramarital affair not made the front pages.

Jason Reitman’s film is pointed in its simplistic but partially persuasive what-if suggestions: it’s one of those wistful movies that shows how a chance swerve might have changed the future. The tone gets almost misty-eyed about gentlemen’s agreements but Ari Graynor offers balance as journalist Ann Devroy and Vera Farmiga is brilliant as Hart’s patient wife.

Not Reitman’s most exciting work but still a watchable political thriller. (ANNA SMITH)