By Chris Dos Santos
17th June 2023

Biopics are often a peek inside historical events for many audience members. A film is much more accessible than any other medium and compared to reading, it's also a much smaller time commitment. 'Chevalier' takes the story of Joseph Bologne (Kelvin Harrison Jr, 'Elvis', 'Cyrano') and projects it on the big screen.

Joseph's mother (Ronke Adekoluejo, 'Christopher Robin', TV's 'Doctor Who') is an enslaved African woman and his father is her Caucasian enslaver. Due to Joseph's musical talent, his father takes him to a boarding school in Paris. Here, he perfects the art of the violin, composition and fencing. His fencing becomes so impressive that French Queen Marie Antoinette (Lucy Boynton, 'Bohemian Rhapsody', 'Murder on the Orient Express') knights him Chevalier de Saint Georges. As his musical accomplishments grow, he challenges another compositor to write for the Paris Opera, the winner getting their piece performed there. Joseph has to race against him as well as the backdrop of the French Revolution. He also develops a romance with Marie-Josephine de Montalembert (Samara Weaving, 'Babylon', 'Ready or Not'), which adds tension due to their different backgrounds.


While 'Chevalier' opens with a truly electrifying music battle, the rest of the film falls into familiar biopic paint-by-numbers territory. The film tries to dip into many genres, starting strong with the music element, then romance - and then because of its Marie Antoinette connection dives into the Revolution, but it never gels those tones well. It always felt like one film was stopping and another was starting, with all the cohesion and connective tissue missing.

While 'Chevalier' opens with a truly electrifying music battle, the rest of the film falls into familiar biopic paint-by-numbers territory.

It still has merit due to the film shining a light on this unknown piece of history. A successful Black man in 1700s France is a story that deserves to be told; I just wish the package as a whole was stronger. The performances do hold this together and there's plenty of general interest in this story, but the script is what holds it back.

'Chevalier' shines a light on Joseph Bologne's untold tale, but uneven storytelling stops this from being a sweet symphony of a biopic.

Looking for more Sydney Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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