Upon waking, King Louis XIV is greeted by his son who has just passed wind in his majesty’s bedchamber. This opening scene accurately sets the tone for A Little Chaos, a period romp with a keen sense of the absurd. Alan Rickman may not be the first person you’d choose to direct and star in a French 17th century drama, but his wry sensibility lightens up what could easily have been unbearably pompous.
Kate Winslet is an inspired choice to play Sabine, a bohemian spirit left to support herself as a landscape architect after her husband and daughter are killed in a tragic accident. Feathers are ruffled when the mysterious Monsieur Le Notre offers her a much-coveted job building an outdoor ballroom in the gardens of Versailles ahead of a host of experienced male architects (this is, of course, all fiction).
Winslet literally rolls up her sleeves and gets stuck in hauling logs, wading through mud, falling over brambles and, somewhat inevitably, falling in love with her boss.
Sure, it’s predictable and there are moments of emotional gush, but Rickman’s sense of the ridiculous makes the French court a thoroughly enjoyable place to be for two hours (Stanley Tucci also has a particularly flamboyant turn as a Duke). Who could object to watching aristocrats take their enormous wigs off and roger each other unceremoniously in the back of horse-drawn carriages?
In the end, the film belongs to Winslet, whose likeability turns an average script about fusty Dukes into a modern and relatable drama about marriage, gender and the complicated business of being royal.