by NEVIL GIBSON
The Church undergoes its annual renewal during the lenten period and much the same is happening in moviegoing.
The feast of Hollywood award winners is over and the peak winter season of international festival films has yet to begin.
So, too, are the northern summer blockbusters, mainly inspired by comic book space heroes, although audience appetite for these is waning.
Instead, more modest and overlooked offerings are dusted off . They come with little fanfare and without any pretence to award-winning status.
European period pieces from past centuries have recently produced such gems as A Royal Affair from Denmark, and Farewell, My Queen and The Princess of Montpensier, both from France.
The British, of course, excel at history (an example is last year’s Belle), and not just their own country’s.
Alan Rickman’s A Little Chaos (Transmission) is set at the end of the 17th century during the French ancien regime under Louis XIV.
Rickman himself plays the Sun King and has selected a strong and mainly English-speaking cast to avoid the usual problem of credibility when telling a foreign story.
The Book Thief, for example, was set in Germany during World War II. But told in English, it lacked authenticity.
Louis XIV’s court of Versailles provides no such problem, as the costumes do their job and the
script, by Rickman with Jeremy Brock and Alison Deegan, uses a formal style of English that appears perfect amid the lavish palaces and gardens.
The plot centres on a triangular relationship: the king, his landscape architect and garden
designer André Le Nôtre (Matthia Schoenaerts) and Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet), who does most of the heavy work in the construction department to fulfil their visions.
This makes the film a delight to watch, as we learn much about the origins of Versailles, which symbolises not only an absolute monarchy but also the scale of grand ambition.
Versailles occupies about 800 hectares in a mix of formalised gardens, woodlands and special
attractions. One of the latter, a bosquet (grove) named the Salle de Bal, was designed as an amphitheatre and features a cascade.
It is apparently the only one still surviving today and is Madame de Barra’s main project as
she steers her way through court intrigue and the amorous intentions of her two patrons.
As well as being an independent widow, Winslet is physically imposing and uses her stature
to good effect against the court’s motley coterie of men and women.
Her past — including the tragic death of her husband and her child — continues to haunt her, without detracting from her distinctive brand of feminism as an outsider among supplicant courtiers.
But this is no bodice ripper and don’t expect any torrid scenes that have become a feature of historical series on TV.
The most surprising is when Madame de Barra mistakes the king for a horticulturalist as they
enjoy a chat about gardening in an outdoor nursery. Nor is there a shortage of dramatic stuff as Le Nôtre’s wife (Helen McCrory) attempts to sabotage the garden project.
Rating: Mature audiences (sex scenes); 117 minutes.