Opening 30 Apr 2015
Writing credits: Jeremy Brock, Alison Deegan, Alan Rickman
Principal actors: Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Helen McCrory, Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci
King Louis XIV (Alan Rickman) decides in 1682 to move family and court from Paris to the country. Unsurprisingly, he orders stupendous gardens – perhaps for his 2000-plus-member court to get lost in? The gargantuan – approximately 800 hectares/8 square miles – park design falls to landscape architect André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts), famed for his jardin à la française (French formal) style. Requiring assistance, André invites drawings from respected Parisian landscape gardeners. No one is more surprised than Madame Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet) at being chosen. Some of the contenders’ jealousies displace their common sense, but Sabine, genuine and a hands-on gardener, concentrates on bringing beauty to mud. Slowly winning over a wide audience of believers, Sabine’s impromptu call on the King’s gardener generates an honorable impression that bestows a strong ally.
Doing a royal job, Alan Rickman directs and acts (King Louis) in this historical drama. Winslet’s powerful performance holds the story together; Schoenaerts’ restraint border on monotone, Stanley Tucci’s fop is lovable; the sets/costumes pomposity illustrates discrepancies between the classes. Off-putting are plot inconsistencies, and cuts: introducing details of Sabine’s back-story, Sabine’s presentation at court and, glaringly so, after the lovers tryst that slipped past editors Nina Gold and Robert Sterne. Tantalizing topics – fidelity, women’s treatment at court, trying to control nature – are left dangling. Ellen Kuras’ cinematography and Peter Gregson’s music are laudable. Still, all is fair in love, war, and gardening ensuring audiences an entertaining romp among fountains and flora. Presently, over six million visit the Gardens of Versailles annually that together with the château were inscribed to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979. (Marinell Haegelin)