Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Directed by: Alan Rickman
Starring: Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci, Matthias Schoenaerts
There aren’t many great films centered on the art of gardening or gardeners. You could probably count them on one hand. Alas, Alan Rickman’s second effort in the director’s chair (following 1997’s The Winter Guest) does not lend itself to that limited and exclusive category. Despite its worthy cast and aura of prestige, A Little Chaos is an excruciatingly dull and limp period drama that doesn’t so much as blossom but wither and wilt until it’s nothing but a brown leaf left sodden in the mud.
Kate Winslet plays Sabine De Barra, a talented landscape designer who is commissioned to build a garden at Versailles for King Louis XIV (Rickman). Struggling amidst the strict rigours of the time’s class structure, Sabine becomes increasingly romantically entangled with the court’s famed landscape designer Andre Le Notre (Schoenaerts), drawing the scathing hostility of Le Notre’s wife (Helen McCrory).
It’s easy to see why some critics have been more than kind in their assessment of A Little Chaos. With its seasoned cast, lavish production values and national treasure behind the camera, the air of prestige floats above its surface; and of course, as one would expect, there are a few things to like in A Little Chaos. The cast are universally good, if never entirely memorable, and the material does make for lovely Sunday afternoon viewing. But unfortunately, that’s as far as it goes.
The film never scratches beneath the surface of its period detail and production design. Apart from some hints at the class struggles that Sabine must overcome within the court, or the general gender politics experienced at the time, it is all swept under the carpet to make way for a woefully dull romantic narrative that feels as passionate as fertilizer. Despite their best efforts, Winslet and Schoenaerts share absolutely zero chemistry and beyond their luscious movie star looks, it’s hard to fathom why they would fall for one another beyond the need and desires of the script. A hint of a tragic back-story in Sabine’s past aims for heartfelt and tragic but comes across as overly melodramatic.
After playing complex and rich characters in films like Bullhead and Rust and Bone, it seems that Schoenaerts has transformed himself into a gallant romantic lead (following his exploits in films like Suite Francaise and the upcoming Far From The Madding Crowd), complete with doe eyes, expressionless facial features and dull demeanour. He deserves so much better. Everyone deserves better.
While this may please die hard fans of this type of film, A Little Chaos could’ve benefited from a little more chaos to wrench it out of its stiffness.