The beautifully photographed landscaped gardens deservedly earned Alan Rickman’s film A Little Chaos the accolade of ‘the official film of RHS Gardening Week’. This is a story of royal horticulture and seventeenth century French courtly life, with some romance and feminism thrown in.
Head gardener, Andre le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts), employs the green-fingered Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet) to create a water-feature-come-Romanesque amphitheatre for Louis XIV of France (Alan Rickman), and to add some chaos to the carefully manicured designs of Versailles. Inevitably, something more than foliage blossoms in the gardens.
Or not quite, perhaps. This romance is little more sexually charged than an episode of Gardner’s World. Matthias Schoenaerts should never be buried under yards of period costume, or forced to sing a high pitch seventeenth century chamber piece, but even this couldn’t stop him smouldering testosterone beneath his weighty wig. And that was well before the obligatory wet shirt scene.
On the other hand, despite the tightly-laced corsetry and heaving bosoms there was little in the way of passion with Kate Winslet’s Sabine. Winslet earnestly portrayed a love of gardening but her oddly depressed performance, featuring a permanently pained expression, did little to fire any sexual chemistry with le Notre. Not so Helen McCrory, who played Andre’s wife like a magnificently evil stepmother, dressed in purple and black lace, paying for sex with younger men in the back of horse-drawn carriages, and wreaking revenge on her love rival.
There are some revealing moments when the weight of the King’s responsibilities, and his wigs, were temporarily removed and he’s allowed to play the family man, and a charming scene of mistaken identity when Sabine thinks she’s talking to a common gardener. The costumes and gardens are glorious, and it’s always a treat to imagine an independent woman, however improbable, at the centre of a seventeenth century period drama.