(director/writer: Alan Rickman; screenwriters: Alison Deegan, Jeremy Brock; cinematographer: Ellen Kuras; editor: Nicolas Gaster; music: Peter Gregson; cast: Kate Winslet (Sabine De Barra), Matthias Schoenaert (Andre Le Notre), Alan Rickman  Helen McCrory  (Madame Le Notre), Stanley Tucci (Philippe, Duc d’Orleans ), Jennifer Ehle (Madame De Montespan), Danny Webb (Moulin), Steven Waddington (Thierry Duras), Adrian Scarborough (Daniel Le Vielle); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Gail Egan, Andrea Calderwood, Bertrand Calderwood; Lionsgate; 2014-UK)

“Flawed 17th-century costume drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Alan Rickman  (“The Winter Guest”) directs, co-writes (with Jeremy Brock), and stars in this flawed 17th-century costume drama. The thin story never excites and its manufactured romance between the real historical male garden master designer and the fictitious female gardener lacks the chemistry to make their affair convincing.

In 1682 France, King Louis XIV’s renown chief landscape architect Andre Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) breaks tradition and hires a woman, Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet), to help him create a lavish garden at the Palace of Versailles. The Rockwork Grove, as it was called, is to have an outdoor ballroom and fountain, and is to be thought of as a ‘window to perfection.’ This plum position elevates the widow’s status and allows her to become part of the inner circle at the court of King Louis XIV (Alan Rickman).

The gist of the film follows Sabine’s journey in the Sun King’s palace. It involves creating the magnificent garden, getting an inside look at the inner workings of the King’s court and her romance with the unhappily married Andre. He thrives on order while she prefers chaos to inspire her art, as they have opposite gardening beliefs. He suffers from living with a domineering and openly loose -living wife (Helen McCrory), who despises the strong-willed intruder Sabine. While Sabine is vulnerable, as she still mourns the loss of her husband and daughter in a fatal carriage accident.

The film’s best scene is probably when Sabine doesn’t recognize the King without his wig in the garden and thinks he’s a gardener. Her frank talk with him is something that would not happen in the formal court.

Stanley Tucci  provides comic relief playing the king’s foppish bisexual brother. Jennifer Ehle play’s the Sun King’s mistress.

When the film works it’s because of its splendid visuals and the pleasing performance by Winslet. But mostly it fails to work because it’s an unimaginative bore that could have been vastly improved with just a little more chaos.

A Little Chaos

REVIEWED ON 2/5/2017       GRADE: C+