A Little Chaos review: Winslet blooms in Rickman's ode to French horticulture

A Little Chaos

Vincent Ralph reviews the latest directorial offering from Alan Rickman.

How you will feel about A Little Chaos may depend a lot on just how excited you get about landscape gardening in 17th century France, but for those not keen on Gallic horticulture there is still something to enjoy.

Directed by Alan Rickman – who also delivers a memorable if doleful turn as King Louis XIV – the film tells the story of Sabine De Barra (played by Kate Winslet) – a woman scarred by past tragedy who is tasked with designing an outdoor ballroom in the heart of Versailles after the king opts to move his court.

De Barra is given the job by Andre Le Notre (the king’s chief landscape architect played by Matthias Schoenaerts) and from there we slowly discover the truth behind the female protagonist’s sporadic flashbacks reminiscent of The Woman in Black’s approaching horse-and-cart roar.

As director, Rickman seems to have intentionally ignored pace in favour of a slow-burn type of storytelling that works with some characters better than others.

Without Winslet, the film would be a very different beast, but thankfully she puts in a wonderful turn as De Barra, bringing real heart to proceedings and giving us someone to root for throughout.

The standout moments include a wonderful scene involving Rickman, Winslet and a case of mistaken identity, while a speech comparing a wilting rose with the lover the king appears to have grown tired of is beautifully written and perfectly played.

A Little Chaos will not be everyone’s cup of tea but it was surprisingly enjoyable for this reviewer. That is mostly down to Winslet, with her co-star Schoenaerts reduced to little more than a few brooding looks and his sub-plot with a scheming partner falling flat – even if it does lead to one of the few moments of real high drama as De Barra’s project is threatened late on.

A Little Chaos is released on DVD on Monday 24 August 2015