One can safely say that Alan Rickman’s floral fiasco A Little Chaos is anything but chaotic. It is an uncharismatic romance with the occasional flare of costume drama silliness, making the film so stiflingly rigid it would go perfectly with high tea on daytime television.
Opening in the bedroom of Louis XIV, there is a touch of charm about the elegantly attired Alan Rickman declaring his desire to construct a new Palace to his little gang of rosy-cheeked cherubs. This initial burst of delight is, however, immediately abandoned for the introduction of the film’s foliage-obsessed widow Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet) who is to be interviewed for a position as a gardener at Versailles. Sporting a ridiculous hat, Sabine arrives for her appointment with chief horticulture honcho Andre le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) whose draconian landscaping is supposedly at odds with her rather more anarchic planting. In a particularly flaccid attempt at showing this clash we see Sabine shift one of Andre’s symmetrical plant pots before they engage in a sassy little spat over her apparently unstructured blueprints.
Sabine of course gets the job against all odds, triumphing over a gaggle of catty Parisian gentlemen and receiving a patch of soil and a strict budget. Rolling up her sleeves and lifting the occasional log, Winslet’s fictitious pseudo-feminist withstands the sabotage of her envious male peers but develops a rather saucy attachment to her gardening guru. A shabby outsider with poor taste, she is coolly ignored at court by all except for Andre and his cheeky friend the Duc d’Orleans (Stanley Tucci) who brings a touch of effervescence to their bland conversations.
Due to the film’s stuffy conventionality, it is possible to mention without fear of spoiling a riveting plot, that Sabine does indeed finish her garden and win the heart of the tepid Andre. But this is not before a bit of scheming from his promiscuous waif of a wife (Helen McCrory) and a good deal of melodramatic flashbacks about the death of her daughter.
It is undeniable that A Little Chaos is visually pleasing with its picturesque settings and lavish period costumes, but the lack of chemistry between its two leads is so painfully dull that watching the film on mute may in fact prove to be an improvement. One would not lose the stunning visual allure but Kate Winslet and Matthias Schoenaerts pretending to be attracted to one another could prove more convincing without the mediocre dialogue. Winslet does however offer a few moments of sincere suffering which can only go to demonstrate how she has earned her place as one of Britain’s period drama darlings.
Although Alan Rickman’s directing is not entirely convincing, he and Stanley Tucci are a delight to watch as they flourish around in their wigs. One even occasionally gets the feeling that Rickman’s desire to create the movie was directly proportional to his appetite for fancy dress.
A Little Chaos was brimming with possibility with its classy cast and costumes but seems to have been let down by a sadly dull story and a complete lack of sex appeal. That being said, it will not disappoint those who have a particular love of wigs, Alan Rickman and soft-core gardening porn.