Severus Snape is king! Or to be exact, King Louis XIV of France, in Alan Rickman’s latest feature, A Little Chaos. After making his directorial debut with The Winter Guest seventeen years ago, it’s been a long time between drinks due to a tiny little thing called Harry Potter taking up much of Rickman’s time. But now that Harry has grown up and Snape is all but a heart-wrenching memory in our Muggle hearts, Rickman gets his chance to dazzle once more in (as well as out of) the director’s seat.
Kate Winslet stars as Sabine De Barra, a landscape gardener hired by renowned architect André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) to construct the gardens at the King’s Palace of Versailles. Though Le Notre respects order, he is drawn to Sabine and the ‘little chaos’ that she envisions for the gardens, while she battles her inner demons in the wake of personal tragedy.
In A Little Chaos, it feels like we’ve been transported to another world. The film bears a magical quality, even outside of the gardens. While it feels like a typical period drama in some respects, it rids itself of the coldness that usually accompanies such films. Even amongst the stuffy members of the royal court, there is something laid-back about it all. The film starts with an au naturel King Louis getting woken up by his children, and the subsequent preparations to create the proper image of a king – the immaculate clothing, the make-up, the wig. This peek behind the mask rids any misconceptions about the King’s intimidating nature, letting the audience in on the ruse. Rickman utilises multiple wide shots to show the ridiculous excess of the royal court, whose members are situated in one awkward mass and react to events with a blasé stare.
It’s interesting that Rickman and his co-writers Jeremy Brock and Alison Deegan have fabricated the core selling point of the film – that a woman would be hired in the position of landscape gardener at Versailles in 1682. Rickman has noted this would have never occurred, nor would have the love story given that Le Notre was seventy years old at the time. It’s difficult to say whether this was a bold and progressive choice, or if instead it glosses over what entrenched sexism would have existed at the time. Either way, it only adds to the other-worldly nature of the film, and presents an altogether different perspective of the time period.
It’s good to see Kate Winslet literally getting her hands dirty in the role of Sabine. Some have suggested that the thirty-nine year old is too old for the role because OH MY GOD SHE HAS MILD FROWN LINES. This criticism hardly makes sense seeing as she’s a fictional addition and falls in love with a guy who was seventy years old in reality. Audiences need to stop having such ridiculous demands in this respect. She can act, and that’s all that’s necessary. Matthias Schoenaerts (who is only two years younger than Winslet – double standards much?) transforms yet again after performances in Rust and Bone and The Drop. Those who are mourning the loss of Jared Leto’s Jesus hair may find some consolation here with his luscious locks. Alan Rickman does his Alan Rickman voice so he automatically receives full marks. And in even better news, Stanley Tucci shows up as a flamboyant duke and he is never short of fabulous.
Though there’s a mediocre love story involved, it is the gradual reveal of Sabine’s past that elicits the emotional pull. There are obvious thematic tie-ins to the garden setting, concerning growth, death, and new beginnings, as well as finding beauty amongst the chaos. Extramarital affairs bloom in abundance, but while the requisite nasty characters are present, not all of those committing adultery are painted in such black and white terms. Instead, there is a suggestion they are trapped in their predetermined roles and are seeking a reprieve from the rigidness of royalty. One of the best scenes in the film involves a discussion between the women of the court, which reveals genuine care and emotion, as opposed to cold and restrained empty banter. Chaos is evidently more fun than order, and it appears that A Little Chaos may just be the kick up the backside the period genre needs.
A Little Chaos is in Australian cinemas from 26 March through Transmission Films.