The Palace at Versailles is one of the most famous and inspirational estates at the world, both thanks to the beautiful palace and the breathtaking gardens that surround it, so it’s a surprise that the creation of the Versailles seems unexplored in cinema. With his second feature film as director, Alan Rickman turns his eye to one of the central figures in its design and creation - a woman who brought her unique vision and originality and helped define the opulence of the legendary estate. With ‘A Little Chaos’, Rickman and his team bring to life a moment in the history of France we’ve rarely had a chance to glimpse.
Widower Sabine De Barre (Kate Winslet) is offered the opportunity of a life time when, in 1682, her submitted designs are chosen by renowned landscape artist Andre Le Notre (Matthais Schoenarts) and she is tasked with creating a rock fountain for an outdoor ballroom on the grounds at Versailles. With both her social status and her gender against her, she is forced to defend her appointment, create a work of art to the liking of King Loius XIV (Alan Rickman) and come to grips with past tragedies that plague her emotions and her relationships.
Any question of Rickman’s abilities as a director fade away quickly, as he demonstrates a keen eye and assured guiding hand through ‘A Little Chaos’. It’s a gorgeous film, both ravishing to watch and beautifully paced, rising above the tired tropes of the period romance to become something of real substance. Sabine is an arresting protagonist, caught at odds in a world that places women in a role that ignores intelligence for sexual appeal. She’s fiercely independent and clear-headed, and the film celebrates this, both with Rickman’s direction, as rigorous and energetic as its subject, and the wonderfully clear screenplay from Rickman, Jeremy Block and Alison Deegan. The romantic subplots don’t always land, neither does that involving Le Notre and his adulterous wife (Helen McCrory), but these shortfallings don’t smart as much thanks to the characterisation and craft in the main story.
He also assembles a wonderful cast, headlined by yet another superb performance from Winslet. I can’t actually think of a single bad performance she’s given, and here as Sabine, she demonstrates once again how skilfully she balances being both impossibly beautiful and incredibly human at the same time. Winslet is an everywoman, relatable and easy to connect to, and all the more important when over 500 years separates her character from us. Rickman is also absolutely wonderful as Louis XIV, reminding us just how magical he can be. There’s a cheeky twinkle in his eye, and his few scenes with Winslet are magical. Schoenarts seems a little lost as Le Notre, but his character isn’t as well crafted as the others, so he has far less to work with. There’s also wonderful work from Jennifer Ehle, Stanley Tucci and Paula Paul.
‘A Little Chaos’ is a gem of a film, a breezy and beautiful little period romance set around a part of history we’ve hardly ever seen.
‘A Little Chaos’ is a gem of a film, a breezy and beautiful little period romance set around a part of history we’ve hardly ever seen. It revels in the art of gardening and celebrates the imagination it requires with a story about a woman buried by history but deserving of remembrance. Alan Rickman has done a sterling job in the director's chair here, and delivered some wonderful filmmaking and ushered in great performances. This is a film worth wandering through and admiring for many future visits.
PICTURE & SOUND
‘A Little Chaos’ looks ravishing in this 1080p 2.35:1 Blu-ray transfer from Transmission. Detail is clear and crisp throughout, but what really strikes are the beautiful colours, which leap off the screen. Because so much of the film talks about the tactile textures and aromas of plants, it goes a long way to drawing us into the world of Versailles and Sabine’s work. The transfer is complemented by a balanced and rich DTS-HD MA 5.1 transfer, light and lyrical with dialogue nice and clear, mixed well with the gentle score and sound effects.
The only extra included on the disc is a pretty generic making-of featurette around seven minutes long. With such a swift running time, we’re only given a cursory glance at the making of the film, and shockingly little about the true story behind it. This is a pity, as it could have enriched the film even further.