‘Chevalier’ Review: A Black Virtuoso Rocks the Court of Marie Antoinette

Published: April 27, 2023

Set in 18th-century Paris, “Chevalier” begins with a flourish. In a live performance corridor in pre-revolutionary France, a person makes a beeline towards the virtuoso conducting a string orchestra to the rapt delight of his viewers. The interloper’s again and his white wig give nothing away of his countenance. Cue the collective gasp when this man is revealed to be Black and means that the 2 play a chunk collectively.

The duo’s dueling fiddles will ship a brand new star and immediate the hot-under-his-ruffled-collar violinist Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to ask, “Who the [expletive] is that?”

This is not going to be the one deliberately discordant gesture in “Chevalier” — based mostly on the story of Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges — however it’s the boldest in a movie that bows to “Bridgerton,” whereas lacing its intrigue with modern racial-cultural wounds.

The actual Chevalier de Saint-Georges seems to be commanding and impossibly good-looking in a uncommon portrait from the period. And the actor Kelvin Harrison Jr. matches that magnificence. He additionally makes plausible Bologne’s celebrated vigor and charm. Harrison’s most up-to-date roles have been in a trio of movies — “Waves,” “Monster,” “Luce” — notable for that includes younger males who are sometimes as troubling as they’re troubled. Here the actor brings swagger and hints of hubris to the marginally extra mature Frenchman.

Born on the island of Guadeloupe, Joseph Bologne was the son of an enslaved Senegalese lady and a French plantation proprietor. He was, for a spell, an incandescent determine in Marie Antoinette’s courtroom and later, after a change of allegiance, a navy chief in the course of the revolution. Outlier and insider, he’s a determine ripe for reclamation. That this film — directed by the Canadian filmmaker Stephen Williams and written by Stefani Robinson — leans too mightily on romance to the detriment of exploring extra totally his genius looks like a missed alternative.

Joseph’s father’s parting phrases as he leaves his younger son at an elite faculty will change into Joseph’s raison d’être as he excels in music, fencing and just about the rest he takes on: “Joseph you must be excellent, always excellent. No one can tear down an excellent Frenchman.” As the film unfolds, that remaining assertion would require a qualification — specifically, except that Frenchman is Black — however the drive it instills in Joseph additionally resonates with the present celebration of ‌Black excellence within the United States.

In “Chevalier,” colonialism and paternalism have roles in shaping Bologne. But it’s his relationship with 4 ladies that proves essential: his royal ally, Queen Marie Antoinette (Lucy Boynton); his enemy, the opera singer La Guimard (Minnie Driver); his muse and romantic consort, the Marquise de Montalembert, Marie-Josephine (Samara Weaving); and his mom, Nanon (Ronke Adekoluejo).

Driver has depraved enjoyable because the diva who throws her help behind the composer Christoph Willibald Gluck when the place as head of the Paris Opera opens. It is a put up Joseph desires and feels he deserves. Whether he will get it is likely one of the film’s central tensions.

Adekoluẹjo brings a cultural shrewdness to Nanon, who arrives from the Caribbean shortly after the demise of Joseph’s father. Their mother-and-man-child reunion is teary but additionally pointed and can usher in a sluggish dawning in Joseph’s understanding of his Blackness. Joseph has grown accustomed to working on the high of his sport amongst Paris’s elite. But as Nanon is aware of, the principles of the sport are rigged.

Rated PG-13 for thematic content material, some robust language, boudoir scenes and violence. Running time: 1 hour 47 minutes. In theaters.

Source web site: www.nytimes.com