By Keith Walther | Rose Law Group Reporter
As far as historical biographical dramas go, “Chevalier” is one of those fascinating true stories that was almost lost from human history. Unfortunately, laziness and overly dramatized liberties taken with actual events corrupt the telling of what should be a powerful story. As the first feature film to portray this influential 18th century French composer, “Chevalier” leaves a lot to be desired.
Born as the illegitimate son of an African slave and a French plantation owner, Joseph Bologne (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) scratches and claws his way to rub elbows with the most elite of French society, including the queen of France herself, Marie Antionette (Lucy Boynton). Known for being a virtuoso violinist as well as an incomparable fencer, among other talents, the queen bestows the prestigious title of Chevalier de Saint-Georges upon Joseph. The celebrated composer has his sights set on an even loftier goal, however, to become the leader of the Paris Opera.
In order to secure the post, he must compose a better opera than that of his competitors. When he meets the married Marie-Josephine (Samara Weaving), he finds not only his talented lead singer, but also a forbidden romance. Many challenges seek to thwart the young musician, including racism, a jealous husband, and a falling out with the queen on the precipice of the French Revolution. As disaster looms around every corner, Chevalier must look inward to rediscover himself and his origin.
Stephen Williams directs “Chevalier,” and he fails to capture the significance and beauty of this true story in a meaningful way. This is about French history, and yet every single cast member speaks with an aristocratic English accent. It is understandable for a director to not commit to a French speaking film to appeal to a wider audience, but it’s inexcusable to refrain from having the cast at least speak with a French accent. This is painfully annoying and immediately detracts from the authenticity of the film.
Williams extends his disregard for accuracy throughout the film. For example, the scene in the beginning of the movie depicting Joseph Bologne in a violin duel on stage with Mozart never actually happened. In fact, they were never even rivals and had lived together for a time at the residence of Madame de Montesson in 1778. While the stage duel may be flashier than the truth, it undermines the characters of both men. By all accounts, Bologne would never have tried to upstage Mozart.
The technical aspects of the film were sound and added credibility to the time period being portrayed. The exquisite costumes, the debonair make-up, and the stylish art direction complement each other perfectly to present French high society inside while the exterior decay and disrepair outside accurately paint the strife common French citizens were feeling at that time. The cinematography was underwhelming as was the musical score, surprisingly enough considering the subject matter.
Despite the poor choices made by the director, Kelvin Harrison Jr., who believably played B.B. King in “Elvis” last year, does provide a dynamic performance in the title role. In preparation for this part, he practiced the violin every day of the week, six hours a day over the course of five months, and it certainly shows with his masterful playing. His dedication is commendable and will surely secure him better roles in the future.
Australian actress Samara Weaving offers a strong supporting performance as the talented operatic love interest. The niece of Hugo Weaving has been quickly building up a quality resume with significant roles in “Ready or Not,” “Babylon,” and most recently “Scream VI.”
The supporting performance from Lucy Boynton as the famed Marie Antoinette, however, was disappointingly weak. This was an unfortunate step back for Lucy, who was outstanding in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but her meekly, mild mannered take on this iconic queen was anything but royal.
“Chevalier” is fascinating yet boring at the same time. Shame on the director for a lazy effort that steals its impact. At least the film provides exposure to an inspiring story from French history.
This movie earns: