By Tara McNamara,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Lots of sex in biopic about legendary French writer.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Believe and be true to yourself, regardless of how society, others may want to label/limit you. Value your integrity, treat all without prejudice. Never lie. On the flip side, some iffy examples of manipulation paying off (even by admirable characters).
Positive Role Models
Colette is considered to be the most celebrated female author in French literature. To achieve this, she stood up against male-dominated society that refused to allow women a seat at the literary table, becoming a pioneer in fight for gender equality. Even in avant-garde Paris, Colette is more open-minded to gender, sexual fluidity than most at turn of 20th century. She doesn't abandon her transgender lover, even in face of adversity. But, she's also a married woman who has sexual flings and affairs -- with her husband's blessing, if not encouragement. And she can be impulsive, jealous. Willy is selfish, manipulative, though he does seem to genuinely care for Colette.
Violence & Scariness
A riot breaks out at a stage performance because of scandal/intolerance: People shove, kick, punch one another. A man throws objects at a trans person. A duel is proposed to settle an injustice, but nothing comes of it. Arguing, yelling, confrontations. Willy locks Colette in a room against her will.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Sex, Romance & Nudity
Film is about a woman who discovers her own bisexuality and writes about it, causing cultural sensation. Colette is a young, open-minded woman who enjoys sex. She has implied premarital sex with her future husband; after they're married, they kiss, embrace, have sex (with thrusts and grunts). Also same-sex kissing/sex, with breasts exposed. Graphic gestures (taking place under the blanket) during a sex scene between a woman and her lover. Intentionally provocative theater performances involve two women kissing; a woman's blouse is ripped off in the name of art. Flirting, innuendo. While sex and talk of it dominates much of plot, it's always consensual; all the women are in control of their sexuality.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Strong language includes "bastards," "bitch," "damn you," "hell," "horses--t," "piss," "s--t," and "tart." Also sexual words/phrases, including "carnal ecstasy," "sexual quagmire," and "ménage à trois."
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Wine is seen on the table at nearly every meal. Champagne flows at parties and celebrations.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Colette is a biographical drama about French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley), who wrote mainstream erotica that turned Paris on its ear at the turn of the 20th century. As you might expect, there's lots of sex: marital, premarital, extramarital, opposite-sex, and same-sex. Most of it isn't gratuitous, but noises are heard, motions are seen, and there's partial nudity (bare breasts). There's also quite a bit of conversation about sex, but the words are so elegantly phrased that it doesn't seem quite as naughty as it must have been a century ago. Characters do curse, too, though, including "s--t" and "bitch." They also drink, yell at each other, and get into confrontations that sometimes turn physical. Colette is a free spirit who operates with integrity and without prejudice; she's portrayed as a strong, independent-thinking trailblazer who pushed the boundaries of women's sexual and professional roles in society, thanks in part to people who encouraged her to live authentically. It's historically fascinating, but the movie's mature themes and extramarital liaisons make it age-appropriate for older teens only.
To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Where to Watch
Videos and Photos
Based on 3 parent reviews
What an intriguing story!!
Report this review
What I think
Report this review
What's the Story?
Living in turn-of-the-century Paris, COLETTE (Keira Knightley) writes a sensual novel based largely on her own experiences as a teen. The book, about a schoolgirl named Claudine, is published under the name of her husband, Willy (Dominic West) -- who has an established fan base. It sets the French literary world on fire, turning both of them into high-society superstars. To keep the creativity flowing, Willy encourages Colette to have more and varied sexual encounters. But the more she writes, the more success comes their way ... and the more independent she becomes, with accompanying frustration that she isn't receiving proper credit for her work. As she pursues her own authenticity, Colette becomes a prominent voice in challenging the gender norms of the day.
Is It Any Good?
This biopic offers a fascinating, revelatory look at how far women's rights and LGBTQ acceptance have come in a century. Colette deftly creates complex characters who are well-written, well-acted, and well-directed. The script is pure auditory luxury: witty, clever, divine. Even more remarkable is how the characters speak "dirty" and yet turn the phrases with such sophistication that they sound refined (examples: "toxic embrace" and "I'll be lying in bed thinking of the two of you in the fondest way possible"). Knightley is powerful as a country girl who marries into high-society circles and emerges as a woman who's extremely comfortable in her skin and yet lives uncomfortably ahead of her time. And West is captivating as Willy, Colette's husband, who's a charming, gregarious, larger-than-life personality. When he behaves inexcusably, it's consistent with his character, perhaps helping audiences understand why Colette stays with him for so long.
Every moment of Colette delivers the unexpected. That said, when the point is to show how the character is pushing the envelope, it would be helpful to get more nuance to the historical context. For example, Colette's male friend, Wague (Dickie Beau), is an effeminate performer who seems to be accepted by society. But her friend and eventual lover, Missy (Denise Gough), is a woman who identifies and dresses as a man and is seen as scandalous. It's left unclear where the line lay during the Belle Époque, which would have helped viewers fully understand Colette's efforts.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how Colette depicts the gender roles of the late 1800s and early 1900s. How does Colette represent them? How does she defy them? How has the world changed since then? Can you think of any careers that still discourage women? What professions are less inclusive of men?
In the first part of their marriage, Colette and Willy display excellent communication skills and teamwork. How was that demonstrated? How does that change over time?
In what ways does Colette act with integrity and courage? Why is that important?
In what ways does Colette exhibit critical and independent thinking? Why is that essential to progress?
How does the movie depict sex? What does it mean to the characters? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
- In theaters: September 21, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: December 11, 2018
- Cast: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Denise Gough
- Director: Wash Westmoreland
- Studio: Bleecker Street
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Character Strengths: Integrity
- Run time: 112 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some sexuality/nudity
- Last updated: February 22, 2023
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
Suggest an Update
Where to Watch
Our Editors Recommend
Movies with LGBTQ+ Characters
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate