Director: Alan Rickman
Writers: Allison Deegan, Alan Rickman, Jeremy Brock
Cinematographer: Ellen Kuras
Composer: Peter Gregson
Cast: Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Ehle.
Kate Winslet is back in a corset for her latest period drama. It’s been over a decade since her last film that would fit into this genre, and I assume that she got back into a hooped skit more as a favor to second-time director (and Sense and Sensibility costar) Alan Rickman, than because she really thought this movie worthy of her amazing talents. Winslet is an actress that continuously surprises and inspires me. Her choices are never obvious and she usually can be depended on to deliver truly masterful performances (her 6 Oscar nominations, of which she won one, prove this).
The movie is visually gorgeous. Most of it takes place in the palace and on the grounds of Versailles during the reign of King Louis XIV and both costumes and set designs are absolutely breathtaking. So much attention is paid to details in the clothing and the plants that make up such a splendid garden – the film imagines the estate as it was when first being built and it’s a majesty to behold.
The plot is less so. Kate Winslet plays Sabine De Barra, a widowed gardner and landscape architect auditioning to be amongst those to construct and complete the gardens of Versailles under the tutelage of André Le Nôtre, played by the Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts (an actor that will begin to become known to English speaking audiences over the next few years). André is married to a wretch of a human being who cheats on him – we, as an audience, must know this in order to despise her and root for the one true pairing of him and Sabine. If his wife weren’t so horrible, then we would feel bad for her as her husband falls for the beautiful and younger woman, who, let’s face it, looks like Kate Winslet so there’s no contest. And that’s really it. There are no complications other than some setbacks in the landscaping (some natural, others due to sabotage). Kate emotes melancholically. Matthias broods romantically. Alan stares stoically. The chaos in the title refers to the fact that Sabine’s designs are not as geometrical as André is used to, and that’s why she is brilliant. But the story could have used a little chaos itself, as far as I’m concerned.