Mail Online – 8 novembre 2018

Keira Knightley reveals why she wanted to tone down the lesbian sex in her new film about French author Colette and responds to her ban on Disney films for her children, declaring: ‘Don’t f*** with Cinderella!’

• Oscar-nominated star portrays title character born Gabrielle Sidonie Colette
• ‘I didn’t want the lesbian sex scenes to be seen through the male gaze,’ she said
• In one scene, Colette unbuttons Georgie’s silk blouse to expose a breast

Keira Knightley and the women who play her lesbian lovers in an enthralling new film about French literary cat-lover Colette, agreed to tone down their sex scenes ‘and leave it to the imagination’.

The Oscar-nominated star portrays the title character (born Gabrielle Sidonie Colette) from the time she was a 20-year-old self-described ‘country girl’ in pigtails about to wed the villainous (and much older) Henry Gauthier-Villars.

Gauthier-Villars (a terrific Dominic West) hijacked other writers’ work — including his wife’s — publishing it under his nom-de-plume, ‘Willy’.

He enjoyed a voracious appetite for female flesh; and Colette herself was no prude, as passionate as her early, racy Claudine novels, which ‘Willy’ strong-armed her into writing.

Once Colette realises her husband is incapable of remaining faithful, she counters that she will have affairs, too. He insists she not sleep with the male of the species — but women are fine.

‘I didn’t want the lesbian sex scenes to be seen through the male gaze,’ Keira told me. ‘We were very conscious of keeping it titillating, but not in any way exploitative.’

The decision was not hers alone. Denise Gough, who portrays Mathilde de Morny (a niece of Napoleon III known as Missy who favoured the style and attire of a man) and Eleanor Tomlinson, who plays Louisiana heiress Geogie Raoul-Duval (who slept with both Colette and Willy, but not at the same time) joined in the debate. As did the film’s director Wash Westmoreland.

In one scene Colette unbuttons Georgie’s silk blouse to expose a breast, which is all the suggestion needed for what was to follow.

‘I always think what’s more important is what’s left to the imagination,’ Knightley said. ‘That’s my personal preference; always,’ she added with a laugh. ‘You can imagine a lot by being shown quite a little, you know.’

The film is set during the Belle Epoch when ‘there was a sexual revolution going on’. Through the eyes of Knightley’s passionate writer discovering her gifts, and West’s sly philanderer Willy, we get a close-up view of that revolution.

‘There would have been conservative circles that would have been aghast at what was going on,’ Keira said, feigning moral indignation, as we chatted in a corner of the bar at the Curzon cinema in Mayfair on Wednesday night where Colette, which I’ve seen twice (it opens here on January 9) was being screened to Academy Award and Bafta voters. (I sense the film is picking up some awards season steam.)

Keira told me she read the Claudine novels when she was younger because her mother, the playwright Sharman Macdonald, was ‘obsessed’ with Colette. She later read The Vagabond, which was the first novel Colette published using her own name. ‘This is my love story to my mum,’ she said, of the film.

She conceded that even though Willy was a rascal, the couple still had fun, while it lasted. ‘They were the last ones standing at a party,’ she said.

‘But they had a volatile relationship — and she was known for her violent rages.

‘She would chuck things at him. We tried it a couple of times, me and Dominic, but it just became too farcical. I would hurl something at him and dissolve into giggles.

‘I loved throwing things, though,’ she added. ‘Very cathartic.’

Abandoning physical assault, the director had Keira’s Colette rip into Willy verbally instead. ‘We had to bring down the violence because it could come across as too much. But she made her point very strongly when she discovered he’d been s****ing around.’

Colette is one of Keira’s best roles and she plays her with an intoxicating momentum. ‘What she achieved in her own right was phenomenal. I think she was an extraordinary creature: her writing prowess, her androgyny, her sexual freedoms and beliefs.’

She pointed out that the movie, which was shown at the Sundance and Toronto and London film festivals, was filmed well before #MeToo exploded.

Talking of explosions, I asked her about the fallout following comments she made on the Ellen Show about not allowing her three-year-old daughter Edie to watch the Disney Cinderella films because she felt they sent the wrong message about ‘a rich guy’ rescuing Cinderella. ‘Rescue yourself!’ she said.

That aside took on a life of its own.

She fiddled with the bell-fringed hem of her black Chanel couture suit and then cleared her throat. ‘Had I known. Blimey.

‘Don’t f*** with Cinderella. She’s got big fans.’

She joked that her daughter will now ‘probably write her thesis on Cinderella’.

‘Seriously, though, when you’re a parent you make choices. And you make choices that not everyone else is going to make. That’s what makes us all different.’

Later next month she begins filming Misbehaviour, a picture about the feminist protests at the 1970 Miss World contest.

She plays one of the women’s libbers who threw bags of flour at host Bob Hope.