A Little Chaos (2014) is a British film co-written, starring, and
directed by Alan Rickman. Rickman plays the French King Louis XIV,
Matthias Schoenaerts plays the landscape architect André Le Notre, and
Kate Winslet plays Sabine De Barra. Madame Like Le Notre, De Barra is
also a landscape architect. She's hired by Le Notre to help with the
magnificent gardens at Versailles. However, this isn't a movie about
gardens or gardening. (In fact, Winslet says that, unlike her
character, she's not really a gardener.)
The film is really about human emotions--love, hate, happiness, and
sadness. The gardens are just the plot device that brings together all
of the main characters in one place at one time.
Matthias Schoenaerts is excellent in this movie, as he was in "Far from
the Madding Crowd." However, as Farmer Oak he had to be intelligent but
grounded in the necessities of his situation. In "A Little Chaos," he
has to have superior intelligence that soars with creative ideas and
Rickman is a fine actor. His perpetual sneer in the Harry Potter movies
has been replaced almost by benevolence in this film. From what we know
of the historical "Sun King," he wasn't exactly the kindly, gentle
monarch that is portrayed in "A Little Chaos.
Kate Winslet is a wonderful actor, and she looks right for the role. Of
course, she's beautiful, but her beauty is distinct, intelligent, and
individual--she doesn't look like just another cookie-cutter movie
The plot is very tightly constricted--almost all of it takes place at
the court in Versailles, which is a huge, but claustrophobic, setting.
Everyone intrigues with everyone else, assignations are made, vows are
made and betrayed, and no one can trust anyone.
What's interesting to me is that I was caught up in this atmosphere. I
wanted to see De Barra complete her project. I couldn't understand why
the king wouldn't put more money into the gardens at Versailles.
When I thought about it, I realized there isn't a single poor,
miserable, hungry person shown in the film. The only non-elite
characters we see are interchangeable servants, grooms, and garden
assistants. They may not have a happy life, but at least they were paid
We know historically that the French poor suffered terrible hardships
during this time. It was with taxes torn from them that Louis XIV paid
for his gardens at Versailles. However, as was probably true in real
life in 17th Century France, the nobles were protected and insulated
from the people and their suffering. That's the way this film is
structure --we see the politics at court, and we see the garden moving
forward, but we don't see the squalor of ordinary life. There's no
remedy for this. Your only choice as a viewer is to take it or leave
it. You can't change it.
We saw this movie at the excellent Little Theatre in Rochester, NY. It
will work somewhat better on the large screen, but it will work well
enough on DVD. I recommend it, despite its drawbacks.
As I write this review, the movie has a horrendous 6.3 rating. It's
interesting that women gave it a 6.7, while men gave it a 6.0. Nothing
about the film suggested to me that it would be much more popular among
woman than among men.
Although this isn't a superb movie, I don't think a rating of 6.3 does
justice to it. I think it's worth seeing, and I would recommend it.