Alan Rickman’s latest movie is something different. Yes, it’s a historical drama, and yes, it’s essentially about gardening, but while others have been quick to judge it on just that, I believe that there’s more than meets the eye.
Journey back to 1680s France. Louis XIV is the Sun King (Alan Rickman) and has tired of his Louvres palace. Convinced to show the other nations who’s boss, he decides to build the greatest palace ever seen: Versailles. The work has been going since the early 1660s, but multiple setbacks mean that Louis still hasn’t been able to move in. A fan of beautiful flowers and spaces, he has charged André Le Nôtre (Matthias Shoenaerts) with designing the gardens at Versailles.
Unable to do all the work himself, Le Nôtre is recruiting other gardeners to assist in fulfilling the King’s vision. One of those is Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet) an unconventional gardener with a troubled past. Unconvinced at first, Le Nôtre finally decides to give her a chance and together they rework her initial project until it becomes the outside ballroom known as Bosquet des Rocailles (it truly exists, look it up on Google Maps).
As they get to know each other, Sabine and André start opening up: André tells of his unhappy marriage to a wife intent on climbing the nobility ladder at Court, while Sabine has trouble discussing the incident which left her a widow. Jealous of the blossoming friendship between her husband and “the gardener”, André’s wife (Helen McCrory) plots a scheme to sabotage Sabine’s work.
As a Frenchwoman, I’m happy to see a movie on Louis XIV that does not include the Musketeers, or war, or the affair of the poisons. Indeed the movie focuses more on Louis’ later life once he had tired of his favourite mistress Madame de Montespan, and was slowly falling in love with his children’s governess, the future Marquise de Maintenon.
It also shows him as a devoted father and a man desperate for attention. His younger brother, Philippe Duke of Orléans (played by Stanley Tucci) was openly gay, despite being married twice (in the film his second wife is actually happy he’s found found love with a man, whereas in reality she minded him displaying his sexuality so openly). While Louis was always meant to be king, he almost died of an infection when he was younger, and Philippe nearly became king.
Lastly, the movie shows that beauty a) is in the eyes of the beholder, b) fades and c) has no rules. It’s nice to see a movie admit that, especially as we all know it’s increasingly difficult for older actresses to get good roles.
The acting was great and the scenery gorgeous (all of it shot in England, how disappointing). The music is beautiful and the costumes equally so. I’d recommend it to everyone who’s into a bit of history, a fan of Kate Winslet/gardening/Alan Rickman or all of the above.
Pictures from: guim.co.uk, artrix.co.uk, cloudfront.net, matthias-shoenaerts.com, wordpress.com