A Little Chaos: Romance and Gardening in French Sun King’s Court

A little chaos2“A LIttle Chaos” is a wildly underrated movie gem from 2014 that I just discovered this week, and wanted to share. Set in the 1600’s France as the Sun King Louis XIV was building Versailles, the movie stars Kate Winslet as Sabine, a self-supporting, determined and talented gardener/landscape designer. This fictional character is wonderful, standing up to the men in her profession and making a place for herself on the team creating the heavenly gardens the king desires. Alan Rickman directed the movie, stars as the King and co-wrote the script. I found the entire thing delightful.

While understated and restrained, the movie depicts the period beautifully. Ms. Winslet’s character perseveres despite all obstacles and becomes a fixture at the edge of the sumptuous Court (oh the costumes! the manners! the wigs!), not afraid to speak her mind. Through a slightly convenient misunderstanding, she and the King develop a rapport, although she takes some risks in the things she says to him, beautifully couched in gardening terms.

Sabine is a widow, and there’s a hint of a ghost story going on regarding her daughter, who seems to have died at the same time as her husband. (The questions surrounding her daughter’s death, and how Sabine was widowed do get answered – no spoilers from me.) The slowly developing romance is with Andre Le Notre (played by Matthias Schoenaerts), the king’s landscape architect. who actually did exist. In real life he was an older man at the time Versailles was built but I’ve got no objections to improving on reality a bit for romance’s sake. His work is regarded as the epitome of the French formal garden style, while Sabine is portrayed as more of a natural, gifted gardener who follows her instincts. So of course these two come together! She understands him. He understands her. They work together on the big project…

There is a generally Happily Ever After ending to the movie, in terms of how life was lived at the French Court and what was acceptable. I’m quite the demanding romance fan and I was satisfied. The movie deals satisfactorily with Andre’s unpleasant wife, revealing how she broke his heart first, long before he ever meets Sabine.

The project Sabine is working hard so on was an open air ballroom, which actually does exist at Versailles, in the midst of the lavish gardens.

Another pleasure of this film was seeing  actress Jennifer Ehle as Madame de Montespan, who was Louis’s about-to-be-displaced mistress. Ms. Ehle of course was Elizabeth Bennet to Colin Firth’s Darcy in “Pride and Prejudice.”

A Little Chaos1There’s a scene toward the end of the movie where Sabine is going to be formally presented at Court, upon the King’s request, and she spends the moments before the ceremony with a crowd of elegant, noble ladies, under the watchful eye of de Montespan. At first the viewer thinks Sabine is going to be out of her depth and probably made fun of (not that she’ll care because she is tough), but then this extraordinarily mismatched group of women finds common ground in their losses and for a moment they’re all just widows and grieving mothers together.

I highly recommend this movie if you’re in the mood for a somewhat restrained love story set against the decadent backdrop of the Sun King’s Court. I rewatched parts of it and then actually went and did research, not related to any book I’m ever going to write myself.

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2 comments on “A Little Chaos: Romance and Gardening in French Sun King’s Court

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