Alan Rickman has a grand total of two film credits until the title of director - the first ‘The Winter Guest’ in 1997, the second is his latest, ‘A Little Chaos’. At first approached to play the male lead of André Le Notre, it was the script itself that enticed Rickman and not the role, leading him to take a spot behind the camera for only the second time in his life... and a smaller role in front of it as King Louis XIV.
‘A Little Chaos’ reimagines a moment in time - the construction of the gardens of the Palace of Versailles in 1682, in particular the Rockwork Grove, an outdoor ballroom, as exquisite in “reality” as it was grand in conception.
Undertaking a task of such scale, famed landscape designer André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) seeks help and reluctantly hires Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet), despite her forward-thinking nature and distinctive eye. Entrusting her with the design and construction of the Rockwork Grove, Sabine confronts gender and class issues, as well as personal demons and romantic obstacles to blow everyone away with her talent, poise, kindness and strength.
'A Little Chaos’ has a real opportunity to transcend time, and with the aid of hindsight and a modern eye, really give it the cultural relevance for today’s audience in terms of gender equality and an archaic class system. Instead it wraps itself too tightly around a contrived love story and a totally unnecessary woe-is-me backstory our heroine must overcome.
'A Little Chaos’ has a real opportunity to transcend time. Instead it wraps itself too tightly around a contrived love story
Rickman is an interesting director. He keeps everything simple yet beautiful, applying grandeur only when it counts and/or is needed and nothing more. His emotional eye gets the better of him over the bigger picture, but one can overcome that when looking at the film purely for its entertainment value. He’s assembled a remarkable cast including Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Ehle and Helen McCrory, with Kate Winslet being the true standout and driving force in front of it all. Schoenaerts however, while playing a stoic and slightly oppressed character, may have gotten a little too “into it” and ends up being boring and not swoon worthy at all despite the end result.
Rickman, while proving his worth in spades as an actor, has still yet to establish them behind the camera, but he does have an distinctive eye. Perhaps he'll be one to watch out for when he next takes up residence in the director's chair - in another seven years maybe.