A Little Chaos – Review ****

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When I first heard that Alan Rickman was joining the long list of “actors turned directors” I immediately pricked up my ears. It is always interesting to see the perspective of a veteran actor such as Rickman in the creative process. The one element I was slightly unsure of was how well he (in fact anyone) would fare directing himself. One’s outlook on oneself in life, and even more so when judging one’s own performance, is very subjective by default so by definition a very fine line is being tread. I am happy to say Rickman has not only come up with that elusive combo – a well-executed classic laced with just enough of “something new” – but has, by and large, maintained objectivity as far as his performance went, well, almost…

A Little Chaos is based on the true story of a 17th century female landscape gardener. We are at the court of Louis the XIV (Alan Rickman), and the next big “thing” on the court agenda is the move to Versailles. Now, you don’t just up and move to Versailles without there being a palace and grounds fit for the Sun King. Numerous extravagant plans are being hatched and built all over the grounds and much to the everyone’s surprise, Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet), a young widow of no noble birth who works “freelance”, is hired to oversee one of them. Managing a building site as a single woman has its own challenges in the 17th century (heck, who am I kidding, it has its challenges in the 21st century too). But the real challenge for Sabine comes from “being” at court and learning the intricacies of court life – a life that involves stronger and stronger emotions for her overseer and the man who hired her, Andre Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts)…

Now, if you read the blurb and thought “type A British period drama” – well, yes, you would be right. The problem with opting for “classical” fare of course is that you have to get it absolutely spot on. Not a toe can be out of place. The cinematography, the editing, the characters… We all know exactly what to expect as far as the bone structure of the film goes and A Little Chaos has nailed it as far as that is concerned. Rickman is wonderful as Louis the XIVth (and I have a sneaking suspicion he loved every minute of it) and a special mention absolutely has to go to Stanley Tucci – who plays the Duke of Orleans, the kings’ brother – who got the room laughing every single time he was on screen.  Of course the downside of going for something so fully established and known is that people either like it or they don’t – they have decided whether they do or don’t long ago and that somewhat limits your audience. However, if you are a fan of period drama (I am, in case you couldn’t tell) this is an opulent and truly beautiful piece of work. You will love it.

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But is that really all there is to the film – a beautiful piece of work but not much else? I wouldn’t say so, no. In an age where we bemoan the lack of stories lead by strong female characters, A Little Chaos quietly and elegantly presents us with what we have been asking for. Sabine De Barra may not be set to become a poster girl for feminism any time soon, but nor is she a shrinking violet waiting to be “saved by a man”. We see her as a strong an independent woman who runs her own business despite having to cope with crushing personal pain. It’s entirely by her own merits and confidence that she gets a court appointment. Once that appointment is gained she wins the respect of everyone around her through sheer hard work and talent. When you combine this with the brilliance of a talented performer such as Kate Winslet we get an all rounded, strong woman who is very, very real – which is a lot more than can be said about a lot of female characters in cinema in general, much less so in British period Dramas.

In short what can we say about A Little Chaos? I think the name reflects the spirit of the film more than you might think. De Barra’s work in the gardens of Versailles is set to represent a little dose of chaos in the meticulously ordered court gardens. In his second stint in the director’s chair, Mr Rickman presents us with a diligently executed period drama with a little dose of feminism thrown in. The result is a contrast that offsets both sides and makes the film even more worth watching…

A native of Istanbul, Turkey, Sedef moved to London three years ago to get her MA in Film Studies and never quite got round to going back home. As she once worked in a DVD company and watched films for a living, she started a personal blog (essiespeaks.blogspot.com) as a short answer to being constantly asked “watched anything interesting recently?” and loved blogging so much she just kept typing . She is the biggest Tarantino fan she knows and would be unable to choose a single film of his as a favourite.