A fantasy, but a lovely one9/10
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 Andre 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 solutions.
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 star.
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 and fed.
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.