“A Little Chaos” is an overlong ditty of a movie, Alan Rickman’s amusingly fanciful version of how a famous outdoor ballroom in the gardens of Versailles came to be.
He directed and co-stars with his “Sense and Sensibility” love interest, Kate Winslet, in a tale of a woman entering a man’s world, a plucky widowed gardener who carries out design and construction one of the wonders of Versailles for Louis XIV, “The Sun King.”
Louis (Rickman) wants Versailles to “embody the true glory and splendor of France.” The regular court landscapers are letting him down. The royal landscape architect, Andre le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) is ordered to throw open bids to see who can “order” the “chaos” of the swampy landscape.
But Sabine De Barra (Winslet) sees too much “order” in the place. Her design, with its “abundance of chaos” is her Garden of Eden. She gets the commission.
Sabine is hurled into lightweight court intrigues and rivalries, hated and sabotaged by many, championed by the Duc d’Orleans, playfully played by Stanley Tucci. The Duke is the king’s brother, with the effrontery to speak up to his king, who has a big family, a mistress (Jennifer Ehle) and no appetite.
“If the King does not eat,” the Duke reproaches him, “FRANCE does not eat!”
Le Notre, unhappily married to a feckless courtier, is smitten by the swarthy, earthy Sabine. Their flirtation is earthy — and earth-covered.
Rickman, who co-wrote the script, delivers gardening in the rain and a delightfully unlikely meeting between the unrecognized king and the lady gardener, a woman who “adapts, like a well-trained plant.” His is, of course, regal and marvelous as Louis. But he gives Tucci a blank check and Ehle, famed for TV’s “Pride & Prejudice,” a stunningly tender scene among her ladies in waiting.
It’s all a bit much, adorably so. And yet the love story at its heart is given short shrift. Winslet and Schoenaerts kind of click in those few scenes where that’s allowed. But Rickman and his players have enough witty and winning moments that we don’t mind.
Even in period pieces, overdoing prim and proper “order” can be a drag. A little more chaos might have truly lit this one up.
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality and brief nudity
Cast: Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Matthias Schoenaerts, Jennifer Ehle, Stanley Tucci
Credits: Directed by Alan Rickman, script by Jeremy Brock, Alison Deegan and Alan Rickman . A Lionsgate/Focus release.
Running time: 1:57