A female landscape gardener is hired for a major project at Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV.
Let’s get this out of the way right at the off – A Little Chaos is actually a period drama about gardening. It’s not a joke, it’s actually kind of a serious undertaking and the way the film goes with that premise is actually kind of charming.
The film itself then is naturally quite a curious creature. There’s a lot of late 1600’s courtcraft and a bit of a romantic angle which dances around itself for most of the first half before a hurried finale.
It’s a unique beast and one that could have been a total disaster for everyone involved were it not for a series of committed performances, not least from leading lady Kate Winslet. She lives in contrast to the starched and plumped women of the time – she gets down into the mud to make her gardens happen. And naturally she has a past which is revealed in random lurid splashes, but Winslet mostly makes it work.
Director Alan Rickman is also on hand to keep things even when the film threatens to go off the deep end. His Louis XIV is all piercing gazes and equine features, with quirks only Rickman can pull off. And he and Winslet score a strong moment together where a king tries to be an ordinary person for a day.
But the unrivalled ruler of this particular picture is Stanley Tucci. Despite being onscreen for only a handful of minutes he’s an absolute delight, spry and ribald and seemingly having the time of his life. Few actors elevate a film as much as he does, and A Little Chaos is undoubtedly better for his involvement.
There’s some fine costuming (by Joan Bergin) and cinematography (by Ellen Kuras) as well as some nice period drama flourishes and a supporting cast with mostly familiar faces including Helen McCrory and the very busy Jennifer Ehle.
All things considered, A Little Chaos is a very strange film indeed but I for one would be happy to find a little more strangeness at the cinema. The romance never quite captivates and male lead Matthias Schoenaerts flounders but it still manages to be a film about gardening that isn’t totally dull.