Inserting a fictional character and a modern sensibility into the 17th-century court of Louis XIV, A Little Chaos, Alan Rickman’s second film as a director, turns the landscaping of the palace of Versailles into a feelgood but thoroughly anachronistic costume romp.
Kate Winslet plays the invented proto-feminist figure of lower-class gardener Sabine de Barra, who shakes up the ordered world of the king’s landscaper in chief, Maître Le Nôtre (Matthias Schoenaerts). Sabine wants to bring some of the wildness of nature into Le Nôtre’s rigidly formal designs, but Rickman’s film itself runs on entirely predictable lines.
There’s a tragic back-story for Sabine and court intrigue for Le Nôtre, triggered by his scheming wife (Helen McCrory), and a slowly blooming romance for the pair that emerges out of their sudden reversals of fortune and hard-won triumphs.
For all its visual splendours, however, the film is never as engaging as you might hope, partly because of the predictable storyline and partly because a disappointingly stiff Schoenaerts is no match for the soulful Winslet. The court scenes have more spark, fortunately. Rickman is typically wry as Louis, Stanley Tucci is flamboyantly camp as the king’s brother, the Duc d’Orleans, and Jennifer Ehle touching as his about-to-be discarded mistress.
Certificate 12A. Runtime 117 mins. Director Alan Rickman.
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