Star Rating:


Director: Stephen Williams

Actors: Kelvin Harrison Jr., Samara Weaving, Lucy Boynton

Release Date: Friday 9th June 2023

Genre(s): Drama, History, Romance

Running time: 107 minutes

Born the son of a French nobleman and an Afro-Caribbean slave, Joseph Bologne (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is brought to Paris where he excels in sword fighting and music, eventually made the Chevalier de Saint-George by Queen Marie-Antoinette (Lucy Boynton). As his wealth and fame increased in the French court, so to did the unrest on the streets of Paris as the Revolution draws near. However, the Chevalier's flamboyance and his race soon draw him into a conflict when he begins a scandalous affair with Marie-Josephine de Montalembert (Samara Weaving), an opera singer married to a highly-connected nobleman...

There's a moment at the end of 'Chevalier' when the post-script details the life and exploits of the real-life Chevalier de Saint-George, how he went on to lead the first legion during the French Revolution comprised of people of colour. Indeed, a cursory glance through his Wikipedia article details how he was a master swordsman and a sharpshooter, and served as a military officer in the Revolution. Yet, for most of 'Chevalier', it instead focuses on a scandalous affair that took place between the titular character and a married opera singer, and his attempts to become the conductor of the Paris Opera.

Given how rife France was with racism at the time, and how utterly opposed society was to the idea of a person of colour leading the Paris Opera, there's fertile ground there to place the story. Instead of something like a swashbuckling war movie ála 'Rob Roy', 'Chevalier' cleaves more to modern tastes, taking a line from the likes of 'Bridgerton' or 'Poldark' by revelling in the doomed romance between Kevin Harrison Jr.'s character and Samara Weaving. As strong as both performers are, you still can't help shake the feeling that there was a sharper-edged version of this story that could have been told.

Kelvin Harrison Jr.'s dedication to craft is evident. Having trained himself on the violin, and taking part in the sword sequences himself, you can see how eager he is to prove himself on screen and that mirrors the character himself. He's ever eager to take offence and his proud and haughty ways often draw him into battles where his skill and prowess with a sword rarely bring him satisfaction. Samara Weaving and Lucy Boynton, playing the love interest and Queen Marie-Antoinette respectively, both comport themselves well in their roles. Boynton, in particular, plays Marie-Antoinette in such a way that captures both the naivety of the character and, later, the calculated nature by which she did her best to survive.

Where 'Chevalier' excels is, naturally, in the music. Stephen Williams' direction gives a clear path to it, by guiding the camera around each of the writing sessions through to their performance in such a way that we see both the creation and the end result as one and the same. A lot like 'Amadeus', 'Chevalier' captures the spark of creativity and how the inspiration for people such as this is as much a burden as it is a gift. However unlike 'Amadeus', 'Chevalier' doesn't truly have a central antagonist for the main character to duel with or cross swords against. Sure, you have the reliable villain actor Marton Csokas in there as the aggrieved husband to Samara Weaving's character, but that's not really it. Instead, the Cheavlier has set himself against the very society he's benefitted from thus far and the racism that permeates it. While he may not defeat it then, 'Chevalier' perhaps is the long-delayed revenge.

While 'Chevalier' has ambition and the heft in its blade to make it happen, you're only seeing flashes of it rather than the whole sword.