A Little Chaos
London Film Festival: Alan Rickman directs and stars in an entertaining costume drama featuring fine work from Kate Winslet
Alan Rickman's second film as director, following 1997's The Winter Guest, is an unashamedly crowd-pleasing period drama with a terrific central performance from his Sense and Sensibility co-star Kate Winslet.
Winslet plays Sabine De Barra, a widowed landscape gardener in 1682 Paris, who's commissioned to work on the gardens of Versailles after she impresses chief landscape architect André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts). However, their increasingly close relationship provokes the fury of Le Notre's scheming wife (Helen McCrory), despite the fact that she has already insisted on an open relationship arrangement that allows for her various social-climbing assignations at the court of King Louis XIV (who's played by Rickman with an eyebrow frequently raised in an enjoyably regal fashion).
Winslet is wonderful as De Barra, whose outward determination and capability mask an emotionally intense struggle with a haunting event from her past. She also generates touching chemistry with Schoenaerts and there's fine comic support from Stanley Tucci as the King's flamboyant brother, while McCrory manages to find a hint of sympathy for the duplicitous Madame Le Notre.
The sharply written dialogue (from first-time screenwriter Alison Deegan) is a pleasure to listen to, eschewing faux-period speak for something approaching a more modern sensibility, although this occasionally backfires with the appearance of the odd jarring phrase or word, like 'recycle'. Similarly, the story is genuinely fascinating and Rickman orchestrates a number of memorable scenes, the highlight of which is De Barra encountering an incognito Louis XIV in the shrubbery and engaging him in conversation, believing she is speaking to a fellow gardener. And amusingly, whether by accident or design, there are also a couple of scenes that are oddly reminiscent of Titanic, including a life-threatening splashing-about moment and Winslet's early appearance in a giant hat.
What A Little Chaos lacks in historical accuracy, it makes up for in sheer entertainment, thanks to strong performances, an emotionally engaging story and confident direction from Rickman.
Screened on Fri 17, Sat 18 and Sun 19 Oct as part of the London Film Festival 2014. General release from Fri 17 Apr 2015.