Female empowerment from 100 years ago at heart of Knightley's Colette

Keira Knightley enjoyed her latest role as French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

Colette is not your usual period drama.

Beneath the corsets and petticoats lies a turn-of-the-20th-century real-life tale of feminism and gender politics that is just as relevant today, says its star.

Opening here on Feb 7, Colette tells the story of French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley) who marries charming older writer Henry Gauthier-Villars (Dominic West) and moves from rural France to Paris.

Under pressure, she agrees to ghostwrite for her husband what turns out to be a best-selling novel.

She later fights him over creative ownership of the book, divorces him and embarks on a shocking love affair with androgynous artist Mathilde de Morny (Denise Gough).

Knightley, whose previous historical movies include Pride & Prejudice and The Duchess, said she was taken aback by how current the Colette script felt.

"The conversations we are having in the film about gender politics and sexual politics, about feminism, are still exactly what we are having today," said the 33-year-old English actress.

"There is something kind of tragic that a hundred years later we are still talking about this and we still haven't figured it out."

As well as depicting Colette's fight for independence, the R21-rated biopic portrays her as a pioneer of a new gender landscape.

Her relationship with de Morny, detailed in Colette's writings and featured in the film, exploded when the two shared a kiss onstage in 1907 during a show at the Moulin Rouge in Paris that prompted police to end the performance and nearly started a riot.

Knightley said she enjoyed playing a woman who lived her life the way she wanted to, adding: "I feel unbelievably empowered by this story because it is a story of a woman who steps out from the shadow of a man and finds her own voice and lives her own truth.

"I find that incredibly inspiring... I think she is a maverick and that is always exciting to play."

Knightley, who has a three-year-old daughter with English musician-husband James Righton, made headlines last year after she penned an essay for the book Feminists Don't Wear Pink (And Other Lies) talking about childbirth.

Some outlets accused her of criticising the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton's polished looks coming out of hospital soon after labour.

"It is interesting that certain parts of the media have misrepresented my meaning and exactly what I said," Knightley said.

"The comments that I made are completely about our culture that silences women's truths and forces us all to hide.

"I absolutely didn't shame anybody in any way, in fact quite the opposite." - REUTERS