How can one fail to be intrigued by the Official Film of National Gardening Week? (I didn’t even know there was a National Gardening Week, yet alone that it would have its own official film.) Not only that, A Little Chaos boasted an impressive cast, a 17th century French setting and a woman makes good in a man’s world plot. All in all this seemed like one to watch.
And I did find it very watchable. Kate Winslet plays our heroine, the fictional Mme de Barra who gets a gardening gig designing an “outdoor ballroom” in the landscaping of the gardens at Versailles because she rebels against the ordered style of M. le Notre (“the Master” – no, not that one; this isn’t a Doctor Who spin-off – played by Matthias Schoenaerts) who actually existed. She’s capable of a spot of hydro-engineering and isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty. I liked the symbolism of the practicality of her cross-body saddle bag, which she wears when out and about; I wasn’t impressed by her do-it-by-numbers shabby chic home interior. Ultimately it’s nice to see a female character earn respect and admiration for her independence, abilities and personality rather than looks (not that Winslet is unattractive, obviously). Unfortunately de Barra has a cliched backstory that had me groan inwardly with frustration when it was introduced (I kept hoping it wouldn’t pan out as I’d expected; sadly it pretty much did).
Alan Rickman, who directed, played Louis XIV with his usual aplomb and Stanley Tucci was dependably camp as his brother, the Duc d’Orleans. Paula Paul as the duke’s wife Princess Palatine deserves a mention for being rather sweet.
Unsurprisingly this is also a love story, and I liked the understated chemistry between the two leads, in what I think worked well conceptually as a transitional relationship for both of them rather than a happy ever after (though I seem to be at odds with most film critics on that).
The look of the film is impressive, largely thanks to the costumes. The actual gardening content was disappointingly low; I was unable to glean any tips, nor was I inspired to create a grotto, or indeed a water feature, in my back garden, but perhaps that was too much to hope for.
Overall this was the right film for my mood when I watched it. One might expect a greater level of unpredictability from a film with chaos in the title, so perhaps it’s the modifier that is important: this isn’t a film that will change the face of cinema but it had small touches that made it different from the bog-standard romantic period drama. Sometimes, maybe, just a little chaos is all that we need.