In 1682 garden designer Sabine De Barra (Winslet) is the surprise choice of landscape architect André Le Notre (Schoenaerts) to create an outdoor ballroom at Louis XIV’s (Rickman) Versailles, a commission that lands her knee deep in mud, court intrigue and love.
Kate Winslet is in her lovely, intelligent element as a pioneering garden designer, employed by enigmatic, premier formalist landscape architect André Le Notre (Schoenaerts) to create a highly individual patch. This is the Rockwork Grove or Salle de Bal — a green amphitheatre with spectacular water cascade — just one showpiece in the colossal taming of the land at Louis XIV’s (Rickman) palatial new digs outside Paris. Stormy weather of the climatic and emotional varieties grow in Rickman’s fragrant romantic drama.
Winslet, his Sense And Sensibility co-star and friend, was the obvious go-to gal for Rickman’s second directorial outing, eighteen years since Winter Guest. The script, by Alison Deegan, Rickman and Jeremy Brock, provides her with a warm, womanly character who is a grieving widow and mother but also one who has the confidence to earn her living and assert herself creatively despite gender and class barriers in a culture obsessed with status and pecking order. Schoenarts is the biggest thing out of Belgium since biere blonde (sorry, JCVD) and straight after playing the creepy stalker/puppy abuser in The Drop he plays a floppy-haired aesthete with fastidious taste, a meticulous, mathematical mind and a tight rein on his emotions. The contrasting personalities of these two are as appealing as they are.
Extravagantly bewigged and witty, Rickman and Tucci, as the king’s flamboyant brother, are terrific fun, McCrory glamorously horrid as Le Notre’s lascivious, vicious wife. But it has its blahs when gardening metaphors, artifice versus nature debates and the challenges of installing water hydraulics don’t exactly fizz. The clearly careful budget leaves the gorgeously costumed Sun King with a noticeably under-populated court. Two thousand aristos are said to be hanging around, but apparently only about a dozen get to come to the parties. Still it is touching and prettily done, with charming incident.
Lovely, engaging performances keep the film’s heart beating in a sweet if sometimes listless search for Eden.