Purporting to aim counter-intuitively for A Little Chaos, British actor Alan Rickman returns for the second time to the directorial stool with insights on how to speak truth to power, as epitomized in the fictional figure of Sabine de Barra (Winslet), a hearty lass and gardener who catches the eye of André Le Notre (Schoenaerts), chief landscape architect of Sun King Louis XIV (played by Rickman).
Versailles is in the making and de Barra manages to seal the deal on designing a small water garden. The opulence and lavish set production of costumes, landscaped gardens and natural wildernesses are doubtless intended to reflect obliquely on the stultification of court life versus de Barra’s unorthodox creativity. And with actors like Winslet, Schoenaerts and Rickman on board, there are early hopes of a scenario that could – and should – have disturbed the well-documented truths of absolutist politics with a spark of fictional rough-and-tumble.
Whilst such hopes are occasionally born out by standout scenes in which girl-power gets the green-finger treatment as courtesans and court ladies gather to quietly lament their ultimate destiny of fading (like a rose) into the role of has-been beauties, there's no greening over the fact that smelling life's roses and re-discovering the humanity of honest passion simply does not count as the titular chaos. Stanley Tucci’s reprisal of camp as the King’s gay brother serves merely to remind us that some devils just wear satin and silk to hide the lack of substance beneath.
A Little Chaos | Directed by Alan Rickman (UK 2014) with Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Matthias Schoenaerts. Starts April 30.
Originally published in Issue #138, May 2015.