Lights, Camera, Action! | A Little Chaos (DVD Movie Review)

By Freda Cooper 11.08.2015

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A Little Chaos (UK Rating: 12A)

Since her big year in 2009, when she scooped an Oscar and two Golden Globes, Kate Winslet seems to have lost her touch in choosing her films. Only Carnage (2013) gave her something to get her teeth into. Labour Day's (2014) storyline was completely unbelievable and the Divergent (2014 and 2015) series is just a Hunger Games clone. Is Alan Rickman's A Little Chaos, then, released this week on DVD, coming up smelling of roses?
Image for Lights, Camera, Action! | A Little Chaos (DVD Movie Review)

In the Paris of 1682, Sabine de Barra (Winslet) is in the running to design a new garden for King Louis XIV (Rickman), but her chances are slim. Her spontaneous style is at odds with that of the King's main landscape designer, Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts), yet, to her surprise, he gives her the job. She has to build a garden at the new Palace of Versailles, which thrusts her into a whole new world, one where she has influence and the power to change things, and, at the same time, she finds her relationship with Le Notre is taking her life in another, equally unexpected, direction.

Rickman has doubled up in his second venture behind the camera, playing a significant role in the film, but that doesn't seem to have fazed him. He's a distant and enigmatic Louis XIV, convincingly regal yet unhappy in his isolation. Where he has problems is with the story itself because A Little Chaos is a little story. It's one that would have made a charming short or happily filled the conventional 90 minutes, but Rickman, the director, is so enraptured with it that he's created an overblown two hours.


 
It's undeniably beautiful to look at, but the luscious visuals have all but buried the simplicity of the story. The interiors are luxurious, the costumes ravishing, and the gardens are genuinely beautiful, but the film's cinematographer, Ellen Kuras, seems to be under the same spell as Rickman. She dwells far too long on her shots, making the film irritatingly slow and long drawn out, and yet, ironically, when a scene comes along that deserves an extra few seconds, she moves swiftly on to the next one…

The cast is appealing, although as the spirited Sabine, Winslet gives her usual feisty period heroine style and little more, and Matthias Schoenaerts, in yet another romantic lead (Far from the Madding Crowd), is stiff and awkward. Helen McCrory, though, has more depth as his acid-tongued wife, and the prize for scene stealing goes to Stanley Tucci as the Duc d'Orleans, the king's flamboyant brother. He's mischievous and irreverent, and the resemblance between him and Rickman in their wigs and finery is striking, even if their characters are actually miles apart.

Image for Lights, Camera, Action! | A Little Chaos (DVD Movie Review)

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

For all its beauty, A Little Chaos is still a little film that's been stretched too far and, under all that opulence and luxury, there's no great substance in either the story or some of the performances. The gorgeous gardens might console those with green fingers, but they would probably be better off watching back-to-back editions of Gardener's World, and Winslet needs to dig deeper for her next role.
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