Sorry, Mr Rickman. Your debut needed a little more chaos. A stellar cast fails to hide what is a dreadfully slow and meandering affair.
10 points from Slytherin!
Two talented landscape artists become romantically entangled while building a garden in King Louis XIV’s palace at Versailles.
I really wanted to like this but I was left wanting more by the time the credits rolled.
Period pieces are not my strong suit. But that’s not to say, I don’t enjoy them. I didn’t mind Downton Abbey (when it first came out). Remains of the Day and Sense and Sensibility (featuring Ms Winslet and Mr Rickman) were simply brilliant.
It made sense that Rickman would invest his directorial debut in a periodic love story. It’s just a shame that beneath its beautifully shot surface, there wasn’t much going on.
The rather bizarre opening didn’t really get things going or set the tone properly. It felt like something out of Blackadder. Louis’ youngest son announcing that he had soiled himself. A mistress ready to tear off her clothes to please her king in front of the children. No joke. This happened.
It took a little while to get to the point. The point being Louis’s eccentric behaviour. He cues his own family members for applause after every little soliloquy. His speech about finding Heaven in a garden was well done if a little pretentious. His defense being that the Garden of Eden was where it all began for humanity.
I can remember from my old History lessons on the extravagance and financial ruin that Louis XIV went through to achieve this perfection. I expected to see this issue looked at or maybe even confronted. BUT tragically not. All we have is a couple of stiff upper lipped lords simply quibble that the King is spending beyond his means. That’s it.
Kate Winslet was very good and certainly carried the film. A strong leading woman if ever there was one.
A self-made woman renowned for her unique gardening designs and passion for chaos. We are fed little tidbits of her past. Figures running in the background, children laughing. Flickering images in dreams that soon get really annoying as the film continues to meander along. The supernatural element had my interest piqued.
Matthias Schoenaerts keeps popping up in films lately. With Far From The Madding Crowd due at your local cinema shortly, I’m getting fed up of seeing him but with performances like this, I can see why he keeps stealing all the parts.
Charismatic yet moody with a mysterious demeanour. He even has a little sing song!
His character, Andre Le Notre is a meticulous and stubborn garden designer renowned across France. It’s not long before he clashes with Winslet’s strong willed madame. His order and perfection disrupted by her random chaotic selection. Inevitably sparks fly.
The pair have good chemistry and certainly played the parts well. BUT in between the inevitable romance plot, there isn’t much else on offer. Merely moments.
Helen McCrory has been a favourite of mine for some time. Her turn in Peaky Blinders being a particular highlight. She played the manipulative house wife to perfection. Scowling and nasty one moment. Sleeping around with any man she can to bait a reaction from Notre’s frustrated gardener. Vulnerable and regretful the next.
I wanted a little more stoke thrown into the fire between her and Schoenaerts. Their fractious relationship had potential. The marriage merely a business arrangement.
Her jealousy of his brewing relationship with Winslet’s Sabine could have been so much more. It soon builds up to a tense sabotage attempt. However, the post-confrontation was well done but a little anti-climactic. Schoenaerts merely shares some harsh truths and walks away. Alas.
Stanley Tucci was superb as the scene stealing Duc D’Orleans. He instantly made an impression and injected a much needed frenetic energy to the incredibly serious leads. Overtly camp and funny. Not enough of his character. He made more of an impact in five minutes than most of his counterparts.
It was understandable that Rickman would take a step back on the acting front by taking a smaller role but when he did appear, he was brilliant.
I really wanted to see more of the King and Sabine’s relationship. A humourous introduction between Sabine and the King as she mistook him for a normal gardener was just what the doctor ordered. Winslet and Rickman were fantastic together and it made for engaging viewing.
Rupert Penry Jones made an memorable cameo poncing about and educating Winslet’s befuddled madame of the inner workings of the French society rings. However, once he disappears, you suddenly realise how unnecessary his character actually was. So much so that IMDb have decided not to give him an acting credit. Bizarre. A silly role for a talented actor.
The pace didn’t justify the means. It tested me at times. We finally discover why Sabine lives alone and is working in France in a dramatic five minute reveal BUT it just wasn’t enough.
There were good moments and the cast certainly delivered with their performances. Ellen Kuras’ cinematography was superb. The closing panning shot of the Versailles garden landscape was a feast for the eyes alone.
But with so many films out there, this felt like nothing more than a periodic love story of Ground Force. I feel this one will soon fade into the back of people’s memories quicker than it entered.