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SYNOPSIS: Landscape gardener Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet) is awarded the esteemed assignment to construct the grand gardens at Versailles, a gilt-edged position which thrusts her to the very centre of the court of King Louis XIV (Alan Rickman).

Review by Louise Keller:
The scene in which a metaphor using a rose at its various stages of bloom and decline to depict a woman is one of the memorable moments in this rich, picturesque costume drama whose central theme revolves on the design and creation of part of the extensive gardens of Versailles. The exchange takes place between Kate Winslet's Sabine de Barra and Alan Rickman's King Louis XIV, when she is presented to him at Ch‰teau de Fontainebleau. Rickman, who is also credited in part for the screenplay, has made an intricate film that is beautiful to look at as it delves into the etiquette of the day, the politics and secret private lives.

It is 1682 Paris and the King's master landscaper Andre Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) is interviewing landscape artists to assist to 'improve on the perfection' that is required to complete the gardens 'of exquisite and matchless beauty'. The confluence of Le Notre's 'meticulous order' with the 'abundance of chaos' in de Barra's vision, results in a formidable pairing - both in the gardens and the bedroom, although it takes considerable time for the chemistry that is apparent from the outset, to reap its rewards. He is 'the most complete person she knows'.

The story concentrates on de Barra's journey, from her initial insecurities to her being engaged to creating an innovative circular section of the gardens in which water cascades down tiered steps, while music soars from a hidden orchestra. The landscape with its forests, richly coloured flowers, bridges, carriages, birds and trees with their whispering leaves make beautiful imagery through Ellen Kuras' cinematography.

We glimpse the inner workings of the court and the division between the men and women. The scene in which a group of women meet and discuss the deaths of those they have loved and lost (as they are not allowed to discuss death at court) provides a great insight. Also insightful is the 'arrangement' between Le Notre and his ambitious, bed-hopping wife (Helen McCrory). She is not devoid of womanly intuition that enables her to perceive the chemistry between her husband and de Barra, even before it has blossomed.

My favourite scene is the one in which the King retreats to a quiet section of his garden for a few moments of solitude after learning of the death of his wife. He dismisses the staff, removes his wig and does not correct de Barra in her assumption he is the head gardener. Even when she learns his identity, their exchange continues in its informal nature - refreshingly so.

Rickman imbues a reflective tone into the Sun King, while Winslet and Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone) flesh out the depths of their characters. The widowed de Barra firmly locked away has the grief of her losses in a trunk, while Le Notre's resigned acceptance of his wife's infidelities takes a turn and assumes a more assertive stance. Overall the film offers an intriguing glimpse of life at the time - a slice of 17th Century life at the palace and its surrounds, with an accent on class and the role of women.

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(UK, 2014)

CAST: Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Ehle, Helen McCrory, Matthias Schoenaerts, Paulina Boneva, Steven Waddington

PRODUCER: Andrea Calderwood, Gail Egan, Bertrand Faivre

DIRECTOR: Alan Rickman

SCRIPT: Jeremy Brock, Alison Deegan, Alan Rickman


MUSIC: Peter Gregson


RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes



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