New films: A Little Chaos, Child 44

Kate Winslet as Sabine De Barra in A Little Chaos
Kate Winslet as Sabine De Barra in A Little Chaos

Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman star in period drama A Little Chaos


Sexual tension and skullduggery blossom in the magnificent gardens of the Palace of Versailles in Alan Rickman’s entertaining second directorial feature.

A Little Chaos is considerably more formal and predictable than the title suggests, but what this lusty period romp lacks in originality, it compensates with colourful performances and an uplifting bouquet of courtly intrigues.

Rickman sows the seeds of our simple enjoyment with a largely British cast led by Oscar-winner Kate Winslet as a spirited landscape gardener, who refuses to kowtow to expectations or gender stereotypes.

She is nestled between handsome Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts as her green-fingered love interest and Stanley Tucci in a typically scene-stealing comic role as the effete Duc d’Orleans, who is a stranger to restrained sophistication and “speaks from the opposite end of the fashion scale”.

Some of Britain’s finest stately homes, estates and mansions including Blenheim Palace, Cliveden, Hampton Court Palace and Waddesdon Manor double handsomely for late 17th-century France.

Rickman’s garden is exceedingly well turned out.

The director makes his mark in front of the camera as King Louis XIV, who has hired renowned landscape gardener Andre Le Notre (Schoenaerts) to transform the grounds of Versailles into a fantasia “of exquisite and matchless beauty”.

It is a Herculean task, so Le Notre hires fellow landscapers to oversee different sections of the garden.

Sabine De Barra (Winslet) catches his eye. She flouts rigid form and prefers a more haphazard approach to her planting.

The arrival of Sabine in the court sets tongues wagging - “You are no one where everybody is someone,” a chaperone tells her - and incurs the wrath of Andre’s jealous wife, Madame Le Notre (Helen McCrory).

Fellow labourers including Moulin (Danny Webb) rush to support Sabine in her epic undertaking and the gardener wins the approval of the king’s mistress Madame De Montespan (Jennifer Ehle) by challenging the monarch’s description of women in his court as faded and overblown roses.

“That fate awaits all roses, sire,” Sabine responds confidently.

A Little Chaos has the requisite array of heaving bosoms, lingering glances and deceptions, accentuated by swathes of eye-catching costumes and composer Peter Gregson’s lively score.

Winslet isn’t stretched in the lead role but she brings grit and determination to her trendsetter.

On-screen sexual tension with Schoenaerts barely simmers, while McCrory vamps it up to the hilt as the wicked wench who envies Sabine’s ability to impress powerful men with her intellect.

Rickman downplays his beleaguered monarch and enjoys one truly delightful scene with Winslet, in which he casts off the king’s finery to mourn lost love.

The resolution of the entangled plots will surprise no one, but A Little Chaos is a hardy perennial that will weather most criticism and delivers gentle sprays of laughter and romance when it counts.

RATING: 6/10

CHILD 44 (15)

Adapted from the first novel of Tom Rob Smith’s award-winning trilogy, Child 44 is a dense crime thriller steeped in the suspicion and paranoia of the Stalin-era Soviet Union.

Scriptwriter Richard Price faces an uphill battle - one he doesn’t always win - to condense more than 400 pages of political intrigue and sinewy subplots into a free-flowing narrative that won’t distract multiplex audiences from their popcorn.

He succeeds in fits and spurts, aided by Swedish director Daniel Espinosa, who energised the Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds thriller Safe House, and performs some of the same magic here in propulsive action sequences.

Espinosa flexes his muscles in compelling early scenes, recreating a key moment in the Battle of Berlin in 1945, when Soviets raised their flag over the Reichstag building.

War-hardened soldier Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) is the man wielding the standard, cheered on by best friend Alexei Andreyev (Fares Fares), while cowardly comrade Vasili Nikitin (Joel Kinnaman) watches enviously from the sidelines.

Fast-forward eight years and these three men are working side by side as Moscow’s secret police under the aegis of Major Kuzmin (Vincent Cassel).

Alexei’s young son dies on the train tracks in suspicious circumstances and the grieving father becomes convinced that a murderer is on the loose.

When Leo investigates, Kuzmin shoots him down: “Stalin tells us murder is strictly a capitalist disease.”

Soon after, Leo’s wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace) is branded a traitor but the policeman refuses to disown her.

“You should have given me up - that’s what wives are for,” she coldly informs him, before they are banished to the bleak industrial town of Voualsk.

Leo is determined to unmask the boy’s murderer and joins forces with local lawmaker General Nesterov (Gary Oldman) to disprove Stalin’s assertion that there can be no murder in paradise.

Meanwhile, the unlikely culprit, a factory worker called Vladimir (Paddy Considine), hunts more unsuspecting victims with impunity.

Based on the real life case of Andrei Chikatilo, the so-called Butcher of Rostov, who was sentenced to death for 52 murders, Child 44 is a slow burn that gets bogged down in exposition.

Some of the cast are more comfortable than others with the thick Russian accents, including a couple of noticeable wobbles.

Hardy is a typically brooding and emotionally conflicted central figure, who is forced to address his own transgressions when murderer Vladimir scolds: “Hero, monster - we are both killers, you and I.”

The bitter rivalry with Kinnaman’s backstabbing compatriot is sketched in broad strokes while Rapace’s love interest feels slightly undernourished too, although she relishes one pivotal scene in which Raisa laments the lack of free will afforded her sex.

Espinosa sustains tension, despite occasional dramatic detours that prolong the running time to a testing 137 minutes.

RATING: 6/10