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The Crack Magazine



Director: Stephen Williams

Stars: Kelvin Harrsion Jr., Samara Weaving, Lucy Boynton, Minnie Driver, Martin Csokas, Sian Clifford, Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo

Despite its fascinating subject, this period biopic of the 18th century Black composer and violinist Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges feels like a missed opportunity.

Bologne was born to a white Frenchman plantation owner and an African slave. He is introduced to the French Court by his father at the age of eight and, despite racist treatment from his peers, garners respect and emerges as an accomplished, musician, composer, swordsman, and equestrian. We first encounter the grown, cocky Joseph (Harrison Jr.) winning a Battle of the Bands-style violin-off with a brash Mozart to the delight of the crowd.

Soon Bologne has become a favourite and confidante of the capricious Marie Antoinette (Boynton). When the post of the chief conductor of the Paris Opera becomes available, Antoinette announces a competition to decide who should take the non-more prestigious position. Bologne begins work on his opera ‘Ernestine’ and offers the lead role to the beautiful Marie-Josephine (Weaving in a welcome straight role), the wife of the powerful, disproving Marquis de Montalembert (Csokas whose curt cruel delivery brings to mind the sort of sneering aristo Basil Rathbone used to play). Bologne’s efforts are complicated when he rejects the advances of fearsome society lady, Marie-Madeline Guimard (a camp Driver)

The picture is handsomely photographed, briskly-paced for the most part, and the cast committed with Sian Clifford reliably amusing as eccentric Bologne sponsor Madame de Genlis. The script, alas, is more preoccupied with the central generic romance between Bologne and Marie-Josephine, and only touches on far more fascinating themes, such as the limits of assimilation for a Black man in pre-revolutionary France, and Bologne’s gradual transformation from posturing society type to politicised outsider and revolutionary figurehead. Bologne may have been better served by a mini-series.

Chevalier is released on June 9th

David Willoughby

Follow David on Twitter @DWill_Crackfilm