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A Little Chaos | reviews, news & interviews

A Little Chaos

A Little Chaos

Kate Winslet has green fingers in Alan Rickman's second, overly languorous film as director

An English rose in the French court: Kate Winslet in A Little Chaos

We’ve waited 33 years since Peter Greenway’s The Draughtsman’s Contract for another film combining romance, intrigue and 17th century landscape gardening. Now we have one, and it couldn’t be more different.

Where The Draughtsman’s Contract was an arch intellectual puzzle and social satire, A Little Chaos, Alan Rickman’s second directorial outing, is a more conventional costume drama, charting the slowly blossoming attraction between two emotionally bruised landscape gardeners.iLke many films with an actor in the director’s chair, it punches above its weight in terms of its cast and, with one exception, shows them off to best advantage. It’s anchored by Kate Winslet as woman-in-a-man’s-world Sabine de Barra, a sort of 17th century Peggy Olson/Charley Dimmock hybrid and a very English type of Frenchwoman who doesn’t mind grubbing around in the mud.

The reserved widow is sub-contracted by Louis XIV’s master of formal garden design André le Nôtre (Matthias Schoenaerts, pictured left, the exception, who's not given much to do except mooch around and brood) to create an outdoor ballroom for the new palace at Versailles, despite his reservations about her less structured aesthetic.

De Barra is summoned to court, a hothouse where scheming and betrayal flourishes among the cultivated courtiers. Her authenticity and freshness wins her allies, such as the epicene but good-hearted royal brother the Duc D’Orleans, played by Stanley Tucci as a more winning version of his flamboyant Hunger Games TV host Caesar Flickermann. However, she also attracts the enmity of Le Nôtre’s wily, estranged wife (Helen McCrory in Alexis Carrington mode).

At the center of this world is the monarch, a role Rickman (pictured below) has given to himself along with all the best lines; this Sun King is all Rickmanesque world-weariness and wintry charm.

Like the Greenway film, A Little Chaos explores the tension between nature and artifice, passion and restraint, and, as the title suggests, order and chaos. Contrasts abound: between the humanity the wigless Louis displays in bed with his children and the distant king in full regalia; the empty formality of Le Nôtre’s marriage and the organic intimacy of his relationship with de Barra; the sparkling facades of the court ladies and the personal tragedies they conceal; and, of course, between the clipped formality of the royal gardens and the uncontrolled fecundity of the woods beyond.

Even audiences who don’t come expecting nail-biting action may find the pace is overly languorous and the drama somewhat meandering. Instead of focusing on the rather desultory love story, more tension might have arisen from showing how de Barra came by the unlikely engineering and building skills she demonstrates, and how she broke into this profession when such things were unheard of for a woman, not least one who has been a wife and mother.

As it is, the film is too much like one of the comfortable warm baths de Barra sinks into after a hard day’s gardening. A little chaos is exactly what it needs.

Overleaf: Watch the trailer for A Little Chaos

 

The film is too much like one of the comfortable warm baths de Barra sinks into after a hard day’s gardening

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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