A Little Chaos
Dir: Alan Rickman
Madame Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet) is an established though unconventional landscape gardener to the upper set in 1685, Paris. Dismissed by others applying for a major project, an amphitheatre-like fountain to be built in Louis XIV’s gardens at Versailles, she is quietly confident. But once successful in the competitive evaluation process, the huge dimensions of the task become clear, just as her chances of success become more murky. For not only must she meet enormous physical challenges but also the intrigues of a Court in which her innocence is seen as nourishment for hungry wolves.
Whilst well known as an actor for roles in everything from the Harry Potter series (Snape) to the first Die Hard film, this is only Alan Rickman’s second outing as a director. If it is something he aspires to more in the future he may have to discover how he can bring a little more chaos to the job at hand. This film is entertaining enough. There are scenes which are more than delicious; a case of mistaken identity with the King (played by director Rickman) leads to the film’s best moments and the versatile Stanley Tucci creates interest as a dandy Court insider. The period setting is lavish and the frills and gowns look amazing. In fact, the camera work features many inspired moments which have the ever wonderful Kate Winslet looking both ethereal and earthy, a tough mix to pull off.
Unfortunately the film veers towards the mild side of things too often. What at first looks like an examination of gender roles in the period leaves that theme behind quickly, never to return. The idea of gardening as bending nature to the will of the gardener also is touched upon in passing. And De Barra’s position as an outsider to Court seems to matter only when it suits the plot. Her discovery of a secret women’s circle feels like a product of Oprah-style wish fulfilment more than anything else. Matthias Schoenaerts as the ‘will-they won’t-they’ love interest, Le Notre becomes the focus of the blandness. Moments where he should smoulder rely too much on Winslet’s skills to manufacture chemistry. A subplot around the grief of one character probably deserved more attention and therein lies the problem. Rickman has the skills to deliver some terrific scenes but overall the film isn’t sure what it wants to be.
In the end, A little Chaos provides a nice diverting story and looks wonderful. Winslet is always entertaining and the few moments when Rickman’s Louis XIV is on the screen are corkers. But one is left with the sense that this could have amounted to much more in other hands.