Throughout history, there have been many great people whose stories have gone untold. Mostly because they weren’t people in power, or more bluntly – they weren’t white rich men. The stories of influential men and women of color, or lesser privilege often are lost to time, brushed under the rug, or even rewritten by those in power to maintain the power balance they feel they are owed. But thankfully, in more modern times, these stories are starting to be told and not just by historians. And some of these stories are making their way to the big screen.
The latest in these stories being told is Chevalier, the story of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. The son of a married slave owner and one of his enslaved workers in the French colony of Guadeloupe, Joseph is taken from his mother to France to study at private academies. Musically gifted, Bologone excels at school in every course without exception. This quickly leads him to the French court of Marie Antoinette and opens the doors to neve levels of society for him.
A gifted musician and composer, Chevalier is a contemporary to Mozart but not one that most people have heard of unless they study music and delve deep into French history. The movie takes us through a quick back story of Chevalier’s life from when he was about 9 until adulthood. His success is a double-edged sword, and while he can live and enjoy life as part of the royal court, he’s unable to marry someone within it, or from his own community without sacrificing his titles and fortune. His life in indulgence is all he is affording and it begins to wear on him.
Chevalier’s story is told around the time of the French Revolution and the upheaval in society and the royal court. His competitive nature and desire to become the next conductor of the Paris Opera House is his only desire – but his pride is nothing for Parisian politics. The movie does a good job showing just how unbalanced society was for anyone who isn’t a white man of means and makes no excuses for the time period or exceptions for great talents. It just seems to meander a bit to get to the story.
Even with all that said, the movie is beautifully shot with opulent backgrounds, fantastic outfits, and music that is truly moving. It feels every bit of the overindulgence of the French court and highlights just how disconnected the court was from the rest of society.
There’s no doubt that Chevalier’s story needs to be told and he was a man out of his time period. His story is one that is unusual for the time period and shouldn’t be lost to history. However, it seems like the movie doesn’t quite give it the justice it deserves. The movie is only an hour and 47 minutes, but there are several times that the story lags and you may find yourself checking your watch. It does follow the history of his life, or at least what is known and hasn’t been erased to time, but it seems like with the life he kept, the social circles he kept, and even his status in society – that the movie could have been a bit more interesting. This may be one time that creative license to fill out the story would have been preferable compared to just what seems like a choppy story that almost follows his Wikipedia page exactly was used to fill out a script. Creative embellishment may have helped keep the story going, so it didn’t feel like a rushed book report.
Chevalier is now playing in theaters nationwide.
Inspired by the incredible true story of composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. The illegitimate son of an African slave and a French plantation owner, Bologne (Kelvin Harrison Jr. in a tour de force performance) rises to improbable heights in French society as a celebrated violinist-composer and fencer, complete with an ill-fated love affair and a falling out with Marie Antoinette (Lucy Boynton) and her court.
Directed by Stephen Williams
Starring Kelvin Harrison Jr., Samara Weaving, Lucy Boynton, Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo, Marton Csokas, Alex Fitzalan, and Minnie Driver