A Little Chaos
dir Alan Rickman
scr Alison Deegan
prd Andrea Calderwood, Gail Egan, Bertrand Faivre
with Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci, Helen McCrory, Steven Waddington, Jennifer Ehle, Adam James, Alistair Petrie, Adrian Scarborough, Phyllida Law, Morgan Watkins
release UK 17.Apr.15, US 26.Jun.15
14/UK BBC 1h56
A Little Chaos
Garden rendezvous: Winslet and Rickman

schoenaerts tucci mccrory
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
A Little Chaos A cracking screenplay and sparky acting go a long ways to making this British period drama, set in 17th century France, thoroughly entertaining. With both spiky politics and swoony romance, the film has something for everyone, but it only works because the writing and directing allow the characters to have their own inner lives. Which makes the silly story surprisingly involving.

In 1682 Paris, Louis XIV (Rickman) is planning to move his court from Paris to Versailles, which is still under construction. He has hired Andre (Schoenaerts) to create the vast gardens with a rigid deadline and strict budget. When Andre hires little-known Sabine (Winslet) to design an outdoor ballroom and fountain, everyone doubts his decision. But he admires her passion and skill, and there's another spark gurgling between them as well, which his wife (McCrory) of course notices. Amid the scheming and sabotage, Sabine hurls herself into the task.

Anyone expecting authentic history should avoid this tasty slice of cinematic fluff. Nothing about the film feels remotely true to the period, but that doesn't detract from the fun. Thankfully, there are some bigger ideas swirling through each scene, from arguments about order and chaos in landscape design to the way honesty can cut through layers of class and status. The most memorable scene is a moment when Sabine and Louis meet without realising who the other is.

But most of the film plays out as a galloping farce, packed with colourful characters like Tucci's riotously flouncing courtier ("I hate the countryside; I disappear in all that muck!") and Rickman's preening king, who gets the biggest laugh with a single word ("Macaroon?"). At the centre, Winslet is radiant, effortlessly adding texture to the smart, emotive Sabine while building a solid romance with the almost too-lovely Schoenaerts, who is not only handsome and attentive, but sings too.

As a director, Rickman achieves a joyfully messy blend of genres, infusing every scene with a cheeky sense of humour and knowing observations about social politics and personal interaction. Deegan's script has a hidden complexity as it touches on these things, then finds some movingly dark corners by waiting patiently to reveal Sabine's back-story. So even if a big action sequence feels somewhat contrived, and the garden's grand opening strangely anti-climactic, the fizzy dialog makes the movie such a pleasure that we don't even need to feel guilty about it.

cert 12 themes, sexuality 16.Oct.14

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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall