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  • Colin Fraser


THREE STARS Joseph Bologne was a celebrity of 18th century society. He was also the son of a slave.


Starring Kelvin Harrison Jr, Samara Weaving

The story of long forgotten Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, is extraordinary. The bastard son of a French slave owner, he was separated from his mother at a young age and taken to be educated in Paris. Despite his background he rose to dizzying heights in French society: the accomplished musician and composer made a name for himself posturing with Mozart, found an ally in Queen Marie-Antoinette who anointed him Chevalier, and he went on to make a tilt at running the Paris Opera. Then came The Revolution.

The opening and closing salvos of Stephen Williams’ CHEVALIER are truly gripping. He employs an elegant design and swirling cameras that underlines the emotional punch he and scriptwriter Stefani Robinson are reaching for. Kelvin Harrison Jr as Bologne is no less nimble, compelling as he brings forth the fire within the composer's belly while maintaining a posture of subdued refinement, essential for the Chevalier to survive a hostile world.

Then there’s the less enticing middle third as the film drops a gear and turns to biopic tropes and conventions to prop up the story. It’s never dull exactly but it does become routine and much slighter than the film’s bookends. It also gives you time to question peculiar accents, why the normally excellent Martin Csokas’ villain seems stuck in a perpetual sulk, or some of the more jarring behaviours and dialogue. It doesn’t undo the film, but it lessens the experience.

Meanwhile Bologne’s mother, now a free woman, has turned up to counsel her son. He’s fallen for a married woman (Samara Weaving), a singer he wants for his opera and, well, a singer he just wants. The consequences of this and other poor choices are inevitable.

Then we’re back. The people are revolting, the aristocracy is even more revolting, Joseph is thrown under a gilded carriage (metaphorical speaking) which prompts a political awakening. We realise how extraordinary the Chevalier was, how sumptuous and exciting CHEVALIER is and left to ponder why this astonishing man had been virtually erased from history.

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