Twitter Plot Summary: Romance and gardening are easy bedfellows, it seems. Hans Gruber directs.
Alan Rickman takes the director’s chair for only the second time in his career (and a mere 17 years after his debut with The Winter Guest in 1997) with A Little Chaos, a tale set in 19th century France and the court of King Louis XIV in Paris. The King is a fan of horticultural exploits, and decides to hire a landscaper to design a garden at Versailles that is fit for a king.
Sadly the titular chaos isn’t really explored in the film itself, the story being as uncomplicated as it is. Kate Winslet is Dabine De Barra, a female landscaper who must constantly fight against the attitudes of the era in which she lives. Then there is Matthias Schoenaarts as Andre Le Notre, the man responsible for hiring her onto the project. Both of them have their personal demons and regrets, which makes it abundantly obvious that they will end up together in some capacity. Their game of relationship cat and mouse is the core of the film, avoiding over-sentimental nonsense thanks to the solid work from both Winslet and Schoenaarts. Weaved into this is jealousy from Schoenaart’s wife, Helen McCrory’s Madame Le Notre, who is apparently happy to sleep around yet doesn’t like it when the shoe is on the other foot.
Surprisingly enough, it’s Rickman who threatens to steal the whole show as King Louis XIV, a man who weaves in and out of the story where required. He has emotional damage of his own to contend with, which is wonderfully realised in a scene where Winslet’s character doesn’t realise that he is the king. In a close second place is Stanley Tucci as his brother, a flamboyant and hugely enjoyable performance that takes some of its cues from his role as Caesar in the Hunger Games series. In both cases they aren’t in the film nearly enough and, while the focus by necessity is on Winslet and Schoenaarts, it would have been nice if their roles had been expanded a little, even if it was just an extra minute of screen time.
Out of necessity and cost it was shot in the UK rather than in France, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from the locations chosen. The stately homes used as locations look amazing, and while you get the sense that the scale of the script has perhaps not been fully realised, it doesn’t distract from the romance story that lies at its centre. It helps that the gardens and horticultural side of the story look rather pleasant too.
It may be little more than a by numbers love story and less than what it perhaps hoped to be, but it does the job without jumping into cloying sentimentality or slapping you round the face with its themes. Instead Rickman directs with a flair that demonstrates an eye for a good shot but without being flashy about it. Furthermore, he manages to pull some great performances from a dependable cast of actors, and it is these elements that pull the overall production above and beyond what could have easily been your average television movie.