Directed by Stephen Williams.
Starring Kelvin Harrison Jr., Samara Weaving, Lucy Boynton, Alex Fitzalan, Minnie Driver, Sian Clifford, Marton Csokas, Alec Newman, Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo, Jessica Boone, Jim High, Ben Bradshaw, Fatou Sohna, Sam Barlien, Mezi Atwood, and Martin Matejcik.
Based on the true story of composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the illegitimate son of an African slave and a French plantation owner, who rises to heights in French society as a composer before an ill-fated love affair.
It’s fitting that Chevalier, which is centered on French violinist and fencer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George (a passionately ambitious Kelvin Harrison Jr., burning with desire musically and romantically), fixates on the composer’s pursuit to become the director of the Paris Opera since director Stephen Williams (using a screenplay from Stefani Robinson) takes a melodramatic storytelling approach similar to those theatrics.
There’s a sweeping story of doomed love alongside the drive for greatness, caught up in the early goings of the French Revolution. Not to mention, there is also a fractured mother-son dynamic and some harsh lessons to learn regarding race that sadly still seem relevant today; white people, including Marie Antoinette (played by Lucy Boynton here), are fine making a Black man a knight and allowing him to be successful, but if they fly too close to the sun, it will be taken away to maintain the status quo, or in this case, curry back favor from the general population.
For the uninformed (and it’s possible people might be considering Chevalier opens with a transfixing violinist battle between Joseph Bologne and Mozart where the former impresses so much the scene ends with the latter exclaiming, “Who the fuck was that, ” something others will likely be thinking as they eagerly anticipate learning more), Joseph Bologne was the illegitimate son of an African slave and French plantation owner. Said plantation owner effectively got rid of Joseph by enrolling him into an elite private academy, but not before instilling into his mind to strive for unprecedented greatness at everything he attempts.
This has proven to be both a blessing and a curse for Joseph, who is such a skilled virtuoso that his peers admire him (despite facing an uphill battle of racism) and winds up bedding white women following every performance, that he can only dream of achieving more while often missing what would make for a greater purpose. Suddenly, his father dies, which paves the way for a reunion with his now-liberated mother Nanon (Ronke Adekoluejo), who naturally thinks he has gotten a bit too comfortable around this high society. His longtime friend Philippe (Alex Fitzalan) also believes he should start looking into giving back to the less fortunate and possibly consider providing a spark to the revolution.
Joseph remains hyper-focused on making a play for the Paris Opera director, which consists of putting together a concert in a one-on-one competition. He also seeks out the beautiful but married Marie-Josephine (Samara Weaving), who is willing to go behind her lunatic soldier husband’s (Marton Csokas) back, yearning for freedom to pursue her own interests. It’s an arranged marriage that she has no love for, and those matters are not considering her husband actively looks down on the idea of her performing. Expectedly, Joseph and Mary Josephine gravitate toward one another with believable chemistry, falling for one another.
The story being told here is fascinating, especially since much of Joseph Bologne’s work went on to be destroyed for reasons that might already be clear, meaning that he is an inherently compelling subject for a biopic. But there is the sense that given Stephen Williams has predominantly worked in TV his entire career and how concerned the film is with rushing its plot rather than fleshing out many of these character dynamics and relationships, there needs to be a bit more material related to everything going on here. Even the ending to Chevalier comes when it feels like the story is truly taking off.
However, Chevalier‘s electric performances, vibrant costumes, heavenly compositions, and operatic love story steeped in emotionally devastating tragedy elevate this otherwise solid look at a legendary musician and trailblazing activist, furthering a desire to seek out more historical information.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com