For his sophomore feature as a director following his work on the acclaimed 1997 character-driven indie sleeper The Winter Guest (which starred his Sense and Sensibility screenwriter and costar Emma Thompson), Alan Rickman called upon another Sense collaborator in the form of Kate Winslet, with whom he hadn’t worked since they were cast as onscreen love interests in Ang Lee’s beloved ’95 classic.
Playing a poor but talented widow with a flair for architectural design, Winslet shines in Rickman's female-centric revisionist period picture that weaves a rich wish-fulfillment narrative about love, loss, gender, and gardening in the time of French King Louis XIV's court at Versailles.
A self-proclaimed "clay kicker" known for thinking outside-of-the-box – which we gather has been a constant requirement in her life as an intelligent woman of independent mind rather than independent means – after Winslet's gardening savant comes up with an ingenious way to conserve and incorporate water into the burgeoning garden design, she's invited to work alongside a master in the field, portrayed by Matthew Schoenaerts.
A victim of timing, while their natural chemistry is easily apparent, their love story takes awhile to bloom. And although she’s challenged by her own self-doubt as well as outside forces hoping to bring Winslet down professionally and personally, thanks to the film’s largely jovial tone and some amusing if half-baked supporting characters and subplots, we're never in doubt that our heroine will succeed by the film's end.
Infused with an intentionally modernist sensibility given its progressive treatment of gender roles and sexuality in all manner of male/female relationships, the lovingly crafted historical dramedy plays well to its target audience of Anglophiles whose DVRs are full of Masterpiece Theatre productions and female-centric series such as Call the Midwife.
And although the admittedly feminist fairy-tale arc makes an overt misstep as our intelligent widower finds herself finally able to let go of guilt only after a man tells her something isn't her fault, all in all, it's easy to forgive since overwhelmingly the film's heart is in the right place.
Overstuffed with talent – by trying to make room for all of its immensely talented cast of characters (including Rickman as the King and Stanley Tucci as his brother, the Marquus), Chaos loses us here and there with scenes that pull focus from the main journey undertaken by our heroine.
Augmented by the beautiful cinematography from Winslet's gifted Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director of photography Ellen Kuras, while eventually it guides us back into Winslet's storyline thanks to the strong hand of Rickman, overall A Little Chaos may be best remembered as a lovely, decorative diversion much like the palace gardens themselves.
Lacking the roots and depth of a more sophisticated plotline, the nonetheless amiable, earnest effort from scripters Alison Deegan, Jeremy Brock, and Alan Rickman is like a lovely bouquet of wildflowers that quickly charms but loses its hold on us much too soon.
Featuring a standout score from Peter Gregson that matches the power of Kuras' hypnotic images, the newly released to Blu-ray feature ends on a high note for all in a showstopper of a finale that pulls back from a small garden party to gradually reveal the magnificent magnitude of the maze-like creation of interlocking gardens in one single breathtaking shot.
A welcome return to filmmaking for Rickman, although Little doesn't have as big of an impact as it might have with a sharper script, staggering moments like that closing sequence as well as his all-around skill with actors make us hope we won't have to wait another two decades for the talented actor to direct once again.
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