The life of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges is definitely one that needs to be told. He was an accomplished man, a scholar, fencer, a virtuoso at the violin, besting even the likes of one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, or so the story goes. Most of all, he was a composer and a much sought after one at that. All this took place from 1745-1799 to be exact, during Marie Antoinette’s reign. But because of who he was, his storied life was all but erased from history as we know it thanks to one little guy named Napolean Bonaparte’ when he reinstated slavery in France.
And this is where “CHEVALIER” the film steps into play boasting a based on a true story – screenplay by Stefani Robinson that doesn’t escape the predictability of the usual bio-pic story structure, as well as the possible taking of a few liberties here and there. Director Stephen Williams does turn this into a surprisingly captivating look at the life story of the composer who grew up the illegitimate son of an African slave and a French plantation owner, Joseph Bologne (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). Bologne rises to improbable heights in French society hence him being crowned with the title of Chevalier, taking his suffix from his father, “de Saint-Georges”—named after a plantation in Guadeloupe—to become known as ‘Chevalier de Saint-Georges’. The film chronicles his talent, his supposed ill-fated love affair with Marie Josephine (Samara Weaving), and his falling out with Marie Antoinette (Lucy Boynton) and her court. Chevalier bucked the norm and competed to try to get appointed as the head of the Paris Opera at one point, but the Opera’s prima donnas, notably La Guimard (Minnie Driver), the Operatic Vocalist Queen of the time, went to Queen Marie Antoinette and halted his potential candidacy because they didn’t want to take orders from a ‘mulatto’ or Creole as he could be called. In the film, they show it as he would not bed the elder Guimard, again, possibly a small liberte’ taken here.
What is incredibly beautiful here is the music and the costumes. Both coming at you with such a vibrance with Harrison performing spectacularly on the violin in a fun opening moment. There is bound to be nominations for both of these, and Kelvin Harrison Jr., having been my one to watch a few years back, he has not failed me yet and delivers a ‘bonne performance’ here as well. Chevalier can feel drawn out at times and even predictable, and overall the pacing of the film is definitely a little strange occasionally, but the actors take it and make it the compelling story that it is.
Even with it’s ups and downs, It’s a sensitive topic, yet also tremendously inspiring narrative set to incredible classical music that allows it to have a powerful conclusion.
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Review Screening: Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures
“CHEVALIER” FROM SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES IS OUT IN THEATERS FRIDAY, APRIL 21, 2023