Period drama’s slender give attention to telling and re-telling the identical tales has, traditionally no less than, disadvantaged audiences of some rip-roaring display fare. That’s now altering, as evidenced by this movie about 18th-century Parisian polymath Joseph Bologne AKA Chevalier de Saint-Georges. As performed by Kelvin Harrison Jr, this fascinating fellow escaped a Caribbean slave plantation – his mom was a Senegalese-African girl; his father her enslaver – to succeed in the best echelons of French society. There he excelled as a champion fencer, composer and virtuoso violinist, described by US founding father John Adams as “essentially the most achieved man in Europe”.
Screenwriter Stefani Robinson and director Stephen Williams have now introduced his story to the display, starting with a powerful scene through which Bologne upstages Mozart at his personal live performance by difficult him to a musical duel: F Murray Abraham’s Salieri would have liked to see it! Their weapon is the violin, however essentially the most important ingredient in Bologne’s armoury – and maybe that of any Black artist – is his unassailable self-confidence. That real expertise is the idea for this, and additionally it is persuasively demonstrated within the on-camera preparations by Michael Abels, which incorporate Bologne’s personal concertos with some attention-grabbing hypothesis on the musical affect of his Afro-Caribbean heritage.
Chevalier isn’t the one interval drama to centre an individual of color, however whereas the likes of Bridgerton or the Dev Patel-starring David Copperfield enliven in any other case acquainted materials with audacious casting decisions, this represents a extra elementary, story-level shift. Like Amma Asante’s Belle from 2013, Chevalier retrieves a unprecedented Black life from historic obscurity and deems it biopic-worthy.
Meaning acknowledging the tough actuality of racism, for certain, however not essentially forgoing the style’s frothier, escapist pleasures. As Bologne flits from celebration to celebration, supping champagne and seducing married ladies, we take pleasure in components of a Harmful Liaisons-style courtly intrigue, alongside a backstage musical (full with audition montages), and a historic primer on the French Revolution. And whereas Harrison’s efficiency could by no means totally reveal the character of the person beneath these luxurious layers of organza, silk and self-confidence, it’s enchanté Chevalier, all the identical.