Colette – a weekly round-up of the latest films 

Keira Knightley as Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette and Dominic West as Henry Gauthier-Villars aka Willy in Colette.
Keira Knightley as Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette and Dominic West as Henry Gauthier-Villars aka Willy in Colette.

Grab the popcorn for the newest releases at Portsmouth cinemas. 

Colette (15)

Based on a script by director Wash Westmoreland and his late husband Richard Glatzer, Colette lovingly details the true story of the French novelist, who challenged the supposed limitations of her gender in early 20th-century Paris.

Westmoreland crafts his pages of feminist history and creative endeavour into a handsomely appointed battle of words between Keira Knightley's dutiful wife turned trailblazer and Dominic West's egotistical and domineering husband.

The balance of power shifts subtly between them over the course of almost two hours, beginning with the discovery of one of his affairs.

Colette's spouse has the audacity to claim that he is genetically predisposed to stray from the marital bed.

‘This is what men do. We are the weaker sex,’ he professes.

That's certainly true through Westmoreland's lens because Colette draws strength from the various women around her to plough her own creative furrow.

Knightley's moving, studied performance captures the tenacity of a fragile bloom, who grows to love her imperfections and thorns.

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Knightley) marries well regarded author Henry Gauthier-Villars (West), who operates under the pen name Willy.

He is under intense pressure to deliver a new work but prefers to devote his time to dalliances rather than penmanship or his wife.

When Willy discovers Colette's gift with words, he encourages her to document her formative years on the page and takes credit for her first book, Claudine A L'Ecole.

The saucy tale of a 15-year-old girl's rites of passage becomes a sensation and Henry encourages Colette to pen further adventures for her heroine, Claudine.

Over time, she becomes frustrated that only Willy visibly profits from her ink-stained hours of toil. The aggrieved wife refuses to remain silent and speaks out with support from lover, noblewoman Mathilde de Morny (Denise Gough).

Colette savours the central character's metamorphosis, culminating in her crowd-pleasing years as a music hall performer, smeared with greasepaint. Knightley and West are delightful sparring partners and Gough brings a slow-burning intensity to her gender fluid paramour, who wears trousers in an era of skirts and politely heaving bosoms.

Released January 9. 

Stan & Ollie (PG)

Director Jon S Baird calls lights, camera, action on a golden era of studio system Hollywood in his affectionate and heart-warming biopic of the English and American comedy duo, who shared the screen for almost 30 years.

Penned by Jeff Pope, Stan & Ollie is a handsomely crafted valentine to a double-act, who earned legions of adoring fans with pratfalls and slapstick.

The film focuses predominantly on the UK leg of a 1953 theatre tour, which was dominated by Hardy's failing health.

A lean script replays some of the couple's greatest hits including the 1932 short film County Hospital, which finds Oliver in bed with a broken leg and Stan wreaking havoc with a jug of water, a bed pan and a bag of hard-boiled eggs.

These moments of nostalgic recreation are joyful and Baird revels in the connection between the two performers, convincingly played by Steve Coogan and John C Reilly, concealed beneath layers of latex prosthetics.

The film opens in 1937 California.

Laurel and Hardy are two of cinema's biggest names but they don't command the financial clout of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd because they don't own their pictures.

The duo resolve to demand a better deal from Hal Roach (Danny Huston), who has them under contract, and subsequent wrangling for a bigger slice of the Hollywood pie creates a fissure in the duo's relationship.

Fast-forwarding to 1953, Stan and Oliver tour England with a stage show of skits that promises to let them "go out with a bang... in Hull".

Theatre impresario and tour promoter Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones) is more interested in a "bright new talent" named Norman Wisdom than the duo, who have survived the ravages of time.

"I think it's wonderful you're still going," coos a London jewellery shop assistant.

"Rigour mortis hasn't set in... yet," smiles Stan plaintively.

Wives Ida Laurel (Nina Arianda) and Lucille Hardy (Shirley Henderson) offer moral support as the tour continues and Oliver's health suffers.

"You loved Laurel and Hardy but you never loved me," laments the American during one lively exchange.

As the title suggest, Stan & Ollie is anchored by Coogan and Reilly, who are fiercely committed, catalysing an old-fashioned bromance that ensures after Oliver's death.

They are almost upstaged by a tour-de-force performance from Arianda as Stan's wife, a Russian glamour puss of few words - most of them biting - who stands defiantly by her man, especially for a photo opportunity.

"Where do you want me? I give them my good side," she trills excitedly.

Baird's film repeatedly tips a bowler hat to its subjects, who got into one fine mess after another so long as it made the world laugh.

Released January 11. 

The Front Runner (15)

Politics and sleaze have become depressingly frequent bedfellows in recent years, ushering us into an era where the press and social media scrutinise the moral fibre of public servants.

Director Jason Reitman's sharp-suited drama The Front Runner unfolds several years before Monica Lewinsky's dress stained global consciousness.

Co-written by Matt Bai and Jay Carlson, the film focuses on three tumultuous weeks in the late 1980s, when political journalism abruptly shifted focus from manifestos to the personal lives of one person vying for public approval.

Senator Gary Hart from Colorado, portrayed with tub-thumping conviction by Hugh Jackman, is the charismatic figure caught in the eye of a raging media storm, who refuses to answer questions about an extra-marital affair when he would rather concentrate on policy.

"I've been doing this for 20 years," rages Hart. "The public doesn't care about this."

He was wrong and his fall from grace in the blinking red lights of dozens of TV cameras is fascinating food for thought in a film that doesn't deliver the landslide victory it promises.

Four years after conceding the race for the Democratic presidential nomination to Walter Mondale, who subsequently failed to prize the keys to the White House from Ronald Reagan, Senator Gary Hart (Jackman) is widely regarded as the Democrat front runner to lead 1988 America.

The handsome politician from Kansas hits the election trail flanked by wife Lee (Vera Farmiga) and daughter Andrea (Kaitlyn Dever).

Hart has a gift for headline-grabbing slogans - "The world changes when young people give a damn!" - and soundbites about Perestroika, aided by a crack campaign team under the direction of no-nonsense manager Bill Dixon (JK Simmons).

The politician has a healthy lead in polls until journalists from the Miami Herald doorstep Hart at his Washington DC townhouse, where he has been entertaining a woman called Donna Rice (Sara Paxton).

Hart's deputy campaign manager John B Emerson (Tommy Dewey), press secretary Kevin Sweeney (Chris Coy), policy aide Doug Wilson (Josh Brener), schedule coordinator Irene Kelly (Molly Ephraim) and aide-de-camp Billy Shore (Mark O'Brien) are embroiled in a race against time to salvage the team's hard work.

Hart reluctantly telephones his wife.

"What they're going to write... shouldn't ever be written. I can't seem to stop them..." he blathers.

"I feel so stupid," he adds pathetically.

"Good," tersely replies Lee. "You should."

The Front Runner is tethered to Jackman's performance and he compels us to see beyond the flaws of his statesman.

The script is underpowered and refuses to delve deeply into emotional meat of those three weeks when media executives openly professed, "It's up to us to hold these guys responsible."

Like Hart's campaign, Reitman's film is a slickly orchestrated, entertaining circus that stumbles at the final hurdle.

Released January 11.