What do you get when you introduce an unconventional woman with modern 21st century values to the 17th century French royal court at Versailles?
A little chaos?
Well, yes and no. While there is some disorder, it is subdued and a tad restrained in how the characters are portrayed and their interaction with one another in this film.
Sabine De Barra draws attention when she is picked to build the Rockwork Grove as an outdoor ballroom at the new Palace of Versailles, simply because she’s not a known landscape designer.
Academy-award winner Kate Winslet portrays De Barra as a hardy perennial that weathers the storms of convention in A Little Chaos. She appears rosier and stronger than the other women in the movie; the English actress’ portrayal of De Barra is natural, almost Bohemian and yet restrained.
Funny moments in the movie are courtesy of the flamboyant Steven Tucci who plays the king’s brother, Philippe.
A Little Chaos reunites Alan Rickman (who plays a dual role of director and King Louis XIV) and Winslet, last seen together in Sense And Sensibility two decades ago. However, in this new movie, they are not paired as lovers.
Instead, Winslet is paired with Belgian actor, Matthias Schoenaerts. One might have expected more in terms of the romance between the two characters as in other historical romances, think Heathcliff and Catherine in Wuthering Heights.
However, De Barra is rather hesitant and only offers gentle sprays of affections for him – a brush of the hand, shy glances, gently reminding him not to skip his meals – that might make you almost want to jump out of your seat and yell out, “Oh, for goodness sake, hurry up and kiss him already!”
In his role as Le Notre, Schoenaerts is very much the brooding landscape artist-cum-glorified gardener, the workaholic who is deeply rooted in order and science.
As individuals, Winslet and Schoenaerts do justice to their roles. After all, both are talented performers – Winslet is an Oscar winning actress, and Schoenaerts, one of the most talented European actors around.
But, both actors don’t seem to have chemistry on screen; despite sharing a few fleeting moments, their romance isn’t allowed to develop and it never really blossoms. That spark is just missing, their emotions seem a bit forced and there’s just no sexual tension between them.
In fact, Rickman, in his portrayal of King Louis XIV, seems to steal the limelight away from the pair of lovers. He was originally supposed to have played the role of Le Notre, but turned it down to direct the movie instead. And to be honest, it looked as though there was more on-screen chemistry between him and Winslet in the movie.
A Little Chaos is a slow-moving, period film with a simple storyline, and it’s entertaining enough if you love semi-fictional historical movies, but it might not exactly be everyone’s cup of tea, especially if you prefer more action or passion on your screen.
A Little Chaos
Director: Alan Rickman
Cast: Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Matthias Schoenaerts, Helen McCrory, Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Ehle, Rupert Penry-Jones, Jamie Bradley