Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
United Kingdom, 2014. BBC Films, The Bureau, K. JAM Media, Lionsgate, Lipsync Productions, Potboiler Productions. Screenplay by Jeremy Brock, Alison Deegan, Alan Rickman. Cinematography by Ellen Kuras. Produced by Andrea Calderwood, Gail Egan, Bertrand Faivre. Music by Peter Gregson. Production Design by James Merifield. Costume Design by Joan Bergin. Film Editing by Nicolas Gaster. Toronto International Film Festival 2014.
Louis XIV (Alan Rickman, who also directed) is moving his court to Versailles to appease France’s nervous aristocracy, turning the former hunting lodge into a glorious palace with a number of building projects including one he commissions of his designer Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts). Unable to complete the project himself, Le Notre interviews a number of designers and settles upon a charismatic woman of no notable birth (Kate Winslet) whose imaginative designs dazzle him. The development of European nationhood was played out quite often in grand architectural projects (generally because it impressed foreign visitors), and the plan with this specific property is to build a garden that will function as an outdoor ballroom, complete with dazzling greenery and cascading waterfalls. Winslet, whose characters is entirely fictional, seems to have the right idea but we’re not really given much information about her plans, nor is there much in the way of conflict that will make an interesting story happen: she gets the job, she gets along with her boss, she charms the king, she enchants the women of the court (the film’s best scene, heightened by an appearance by the wonderful Phyllida Law), and then a flashback tells us about her very sympathetic tragedy. Anything of interest in this film comes from wisely casting Winslet in the lead, a bewitching actor of incredible strength whose talent might even be made more obvious by a film this weak. Rickman directs all his actors to speak in the same low-toned, flat manner that works for him (and only him), while the screenplay unwisely assumes that anyone with a half of grain of knowlege of the period will believe that a lower-class woman would have been allowed to take team lead on a building project and be treated with any respect by her employees.