Alan Rickman’s A Little Chaos puts us at the creation of Versailles in 1682 for a very flared-nostril romance between King Louis XIV’s landscape architect Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) and the unorthodox gardener he hires, Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet). Impeding their courtship is Sabine’s long-standing trauma over the way she was widowed. More trouble comes from the objections of the witchily unfaithful Mme. Le Notre (frequent villainess Helen McCrory).
Rickman directs in such a way that the king (who Rickman also plays) is the center of the film. Indeed, the film’s best scenes are the one Rickman reserves for himself and Winslet, whose curves and untidy golden hair are flattered by the outfits. She looks businesslike and weary, with heavy eyelids and parted lips. Or maybe she’s just short-winded from the tight corsets.
If there’s chaos here, it’s a chaos of accents, most of them British. The romantic dialogue, in particular, is badly stilted. And doesn’t Schoenaerts’ Le Notre come across as a little too grim for anyone to fantasize about?
Still, the supporting work is adept. Jennifer Ehle as the discarded royal favorite Mme. de Montespan is beguiling. Stanely Tucci plays the king’s well-liked homosexual brother “Monsieur,” who frets about life in the country (“Muck, or beasts making muck . . .”). Rupert Penry-Jones stands out as an ironical chevalier, taking Sabine on her first tour of court. He’s so suave one wonders why Sabine doesn’t run off with him instead of with her lovesick Le Notre.
‘A Little Chaos’ opens Friday at Summerfield Cinemas, 551 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa. 707.525.8909.