Alan Rickman’s second film as director is a period piece set in and around the grounds of Versailles during the reign of King Louis XIV of France. Rickman himself adopts the role of The Sun King, with Kate Winslet leading as the fictional Sabine De Barra; a gardener commissioned to work on the palatial grounds and to create a marvel worthy of both the king and France’s current standing in the world. Mattias Schoenaerts supports as André Le Nôtre, the renowned landscape architect who initially hires Madame De Barra, inspired by her determination not to conform to traditional models (his own included).
Unlike our protagonist, it is clear from the beginning that this film will not be breaking from conformity, rather staying well within the cliched bounds of traditional storytelling. The plot makes several leaps within the opening minutes, introducing the key points without much effort and laying down a strict context that refuses to budge; Sabine applies to work with Monsieur Le Notre at Versailles, but is near laughed out of the room, firstly for being a woman, second for having too many radical ideas. These are common fixtures we’ve all seen before, and whilst there’s nothing wrong with them (there’s a reason they’re re-used), writers and directors should at least try to engage with them in an original way, not just lay them out on the table and demand the audience accept them just as they would a brand new idea.
What this results in is that we know exactly how each plot point will develop; Le Nôtre will change his mind and hire Sabine on the back of one (not-even-a-proper) speech from his assistant, she will do a fantastic job, love will ensue, how lovely. “Nice” and “lovely” are descriptors that often went through my mind whilst watching, there’s no denying that it is beautifully shot and the performances from Winslet and Rickman are delightful. But those are bankers, Versailles is a beautiful place and the cast are very good actors. What should differentiate A Little Chaos from other period films is that 1. Rickman is directing and 2. There aren’t many films about the gardens at Versailles. Sadly, it falls short on both counts; not enough time is taken to develop the characters or the plot, and aside from some good camera work, the setting is largely wasted. The importance and majesty of Versailles is never properly put to the audience, which means that Sabine’s efforts have no true context.
Though the subject matter has the potential to be interesting, A Little Chaos is anything but. A strong cast can’t do much with weak characters and sadly Rickman’s second directorial attempt falls meagerly into the category of ‘style over substance’.
Dir: Alan Rickman
Scr: Jeremy Brock, Alison Deegan, Alan Rickman
Starring: Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci
Prd: Andrea Calderwood, Gail Egan, Bertrand Faivre
DOP: Ellen Kuras
Music: Peter Gregson
Run time: 117 mins
A Little Chaos is available on Blu-Ray and DVD now.