“It’s been a long journey” to make Colette, director Wash Westmoreland revealed at a Monday screening of the film at United Talent Agency in Beverly Hills.
In introducing the film to the audience, the gay filmmaker recounted that it was the dying wish of his late husband, Richard Glatzer, to produce the biopic about Colette, a French novelist whose works like Gigi and the Claudine stories revolutionized gender and sexuality for women in the early 20th century.
Indeed, the production was not built in a day. Glatzer had written the first draft of the screenplay in 2001, and it went through over 30 drafts before reaching its current iteration. The process took so long that couple had co-directed and cowritten three other productions — Still Alice, The Last of Robin Hood, and Quinceañera — in the interim.
But Colette “was always our dream project,” Westmoreland stressed, although Glatzer would not see it come to fruition.
“In 2001, Richard developed a lisp in his speech, and on further investigation, it turned out to be ALS," Westmoreland said. "Rather than retreating into depression or self-pity, he spent the last few years of his life hell-bent on making movies, the last one of which was Still Alice. We actually watched the 2015 Oscars from the ICU at Cedars-Sinai, but it did not stop us from celebrating. And afterwards, I asked him what film he wanted to make next, and he said it was Colette. A few days later, he passed. So I knew what I had to do.”
Westmoreland said that as time passes, some scripts “can get dusty and start to feel they are no longer in touch with the times.” But Colette, which shows how a woman fought for the legacy of the works she had written under her husband’s nom de plume, had become more relevant in recent years, he said.
“Her characteristically fearless approach to gender and sexuality has made the story more current with every passing year. And with the recent #MeToo movement, [it] has found extraordinary historical parallels,” he said. “I wanted to make a period piece that broke the rules of period pieces in the same way Colette broke conventional rules around her at the time.”
The film, which comes out September 21, accomplishes just that. Actress Keira Knightley brings to life the part of the titular queer pioneer, who had male and female lovers and was unafraid to be gender-nonconforming in her style and profession. Glatzer is listed as a screenwriter alongside Westmoreland and Rebecca Lenkiewicz.
And the film ends with a dedication to the man who helped make it happen: “For Richard.”
Watch a trailer for Colette below.