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Knightley is sometimes accused of playing the same historical role over and over again — an accusation that relies on the belief that Anna Karenina and Elizabeth Bennet and the Duchess of Devonshire and Cecilia Tallis and Colette are the same person, simply because they are dressed in period clothing. Yet they are unified by Knightley’s embodiment of them, as well as the larger idea she represents: that of women ostensibly performing a version of proper womanhood — all while quietly negotiating, or cracking under, the weight of doing so.
Colette offers Knightley’s least quiet, most bombastic negotiation of proper womanhood to date.
The first time I noticed Keira Knightley was with her shirt off, playing a teenage soccer star in Bend It Like Beckham (2002).
Colette, the new film about the life of famed French author Gabrielle Colette, resembles so many other historical biopics of men and women with expansive personal lives and achievements: It’s gorgeously costumed, transporting in its set design, and struggles to find a suitable, sensical ending.
But it has something else to recommend it that will make many people I know see it, regardless of reviews: Keira Knightley, jaw firm as ever, very convincingly playing the part of a woman from another century.
Knightley gets teased for playing versions of the same character, in different costumes.
But her recurring role — negotiating femininity under patriarchal control — is one so many women recognize as our own.
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It took a year of “deep therapy” before she returned with a new-found resilience.