The last time British acting royalty Alan Rickman took his seat in the director’s chair, was for The Winter Guest back in 1997. Now, almost two decades later, he presents period drama A Little Chaos, which just about manages to find a compatible balance between comedy and pathos. It’s like he’s never been away.
Rickman plays King Louis XIV, a grandiose, pompous man who is desperately after a new design for his garden at Versailles. Leaving André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) to handpick the perfect landscape designer, it comes as something of a surprise when the emotionally damaged Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet) is left with such an honour, given the fact she’s a woman, very much in a man’s world. But she more than proves her own, and despite those who are perversely desperate that she’ll fail, she continues to surpass expectation, with a unique, forward-thinking approach. Though needless to say she encounters several difficulties along the way, one of which comes in the form of a romance, with the very man who hired her, Le Notre.
There’s a pertinent, and powerful feminist angle to this piece, though in some regards that is undone by Rickman’s inclination for frivolity. Though what transpires is an affable, charming piece of cinema that has a truly wondrous tone, that is funny in parts, it can at times detract from the severity of the situation at hand, and cheapen the more profound elements of the narrative. Nonetheless, when A Little Chaos attempts humour, more often than not it triumphs – with Rickman in particular granted the majority of the best one-liners. Stanley Tucci, who plays the flamboyant Philippe, Duc d’Orleans pushes him close, but sadly, and very regrettably, the talented actor is not given nearly enough screen time in this instance. Instead we opt for the brooding Schoenaerts, and while few can brood like this man can brood, the nature of his role seems a bit out of place in this title, and though such an approach works wonders for his turn in Far From the Madding Crowd, perhaps a less pensive, and more charismatic turn would be preferred in this instance.
A Little Chaos is undoubtedly a film that you can sit back and enjoy, making for an undemanding cinematic experience, and the sort of film that perfectly fits the bill on a lazy Sunday afternoon. But given the profundity of the narrative, that very sense of irreverence can, and does, backfire, as when the more poignant aspects take precedence, the audience are not quite immersed in this world as they should be.