New movies and mu­sic re­viewed

The Church of England - - FRONT PAGE - Steve Parish

A Lit­tle Chaos (dir. Alan Rick­man, cert. 12A) is a lush drama telling the story of Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet), who gets an un­likely job designing a wa­ter fea­ture as part of the gar­dens of Ver­sailles. An­dré Le Notre (Matthias Schoe­naerts) is the ar­chi­tect charged by Louis XIV (Alan Rick­man) with cre­at­ing the gar­dens of his new palace, who takes her on (con­trac­tu­ally and ro­man­ti­cally).

Her back­story of tragedy is teased out in flash­back, and also in a scene among the women of the court of the Sun King (the trailer picks out the breasts-com­par­i­son bit rather than the shar­ing about chil­dren dy­ing in in­fancy). There is a lot of cleav­age and some dimly lit love­mak­ing, as An­dré’s phi­lan­der­ing wife (He­len McCrory) be­stows favours else­where, and his ad­mi­ra­tion for Sabine’s en­gi­neer­ing skill blos­soms into love.

Clerk of works Thierry (Steven Wadding­ton) over­sees both de­vel­op­ments – “I won­dered when that fire would be lit”. An act of sab­o­tage, which in­ex­pli­ca­bly is put down as an ac­ci­dent, has him res­cu­ing Sabine from a flooded aqueduct – Winslet nearly drowns, again – and he holds the ring with the work­force.

Apart from an ap­par­ent divi- sion be­tween work­ers and shirk­ers, we learn lit­tle of the con­di­tions of the poor in 17th cen­tury France. What we are shown is the ex­trav­a­gance of the monar­chy, mov­ing the court from the Lou­vre Palace in Paris to Ver­sailles, and the nor­mal­ity of the king’s hav­ing an of­fi­cial mis­tress (Jen­nifer Ehle) and sev­eral unof­fi­cial ones.

Two thou­sand courtiers were in per­ma­nent res­i­dence, help­fully ex­plained by the king’s younger brother Philippe, Duc d’Or­leans (Stan­ley Tucci), out­ra­geously camp but ten­der­hearted. His Ger­man wife, the Princess Pala­tine (Paula Paul), takes a par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in Sabine’s pro­posed gar­den, even though vis­i­tors to the site see noth­ing but mud.

When Sabine first meets the king, she mis­takes him for a hor­ti­cul­tur­ist. When she is for­mally pre­sented, she gives him a rose, “nat­u­ral and un­forced”, and the idea that it matches her char­ac­ter weighs heavy on the scene, but Alison Dee­gan‘s screen­play oth­er­wise avoids too much sym­bol­ism.

It is in sum an amus­ing cos­tume drama, with some his­tor­i­cal notes, and a fan­ci­ful story that just about man­ages to seem cred­i­ble. Rick­man plays Louis as in­scrutable (how does an ac­tor do in­scrutable?) while Winslet has a wide range to cover, from be­reave­ment to bed­room, from courtly niceties to mess­ing in mud in highly im­prac­ti­cal skirts.

Awards for the cos­tumes and sets seem likely. Any film tourism is likely to be split be­tween Ver­sailles and the English stately homes that were stand-ins.

Per­haps a dis­ap­point­ing note is that af­ter all the ef­fort – the imag­i­na­tion, the de­sign, the wa­ter sup­ply, the set­backs – the foun­tain is pretty but not that spec­tac­u­lar. It’s pre­sum­ably based on the Bos­quet de la Salle de Bal (the Ro­cailles).

The foun­tain is sim­ply a back­ground to an open-air dance space, and the fi­nal pull away has the king cen­tral to courtiers danc­ing around him to show the con­text of the larger gar­dens. He fi­nally looks rather pleased, rather than in­scrutable.

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