Chevalier is a biographical drama film directed by Stephen Williams and written by Stefani Robinson that tells the true story of French-Caribbean musician, conductor and composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, played by Kelvin Harrison Jr. When I heard about this film, I was curious. Why hadn’t I heard about this composer before, especially considering this is based on a true story? Turns out it was because the once celebrated composer was almost erased from history due to being a person of colour.
The film briefly displays Joseph’s beginnings because audiences are thrown into a moment where Joseph is challenging Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to a duel, but with their violins. No, they’re not fencing with violins! Instead, each take turns to out play the other, leading to Joseph Bologne being the triumphant winner of the ‘violin-off’. While I thoroughly enjoyed the moments when we see Joseph in his element either writing, playing, or composing music, as well as being recognised for his talents and becoming ‘Chevalier’, a title bestowed onto him by his newfound and fast friend, French royalty Marie Antoinette (Lucy Boynton), I found that the film spends most of its time focusing on Joseph’s foolish but severely passionate romantic escapades.
Now, if these romantic moments happened in real life, fine. But I felt the film spends far too long on Joseph’s interests and pursuit of married woman Marie-Josephine de Montalembert (Samara Weaving), to the point that you soon forget Joseph is a man of music as he becomes far too caught up in chasing tail of a women who has already been spoken for. Once again, if this is how it all went down, fine. But if it was not, that just makes the whole situation even more frustrating because these scenes were really annoying to watch. I understand there was an affair, but the film makes the mistake of championing the affair more than Bologne’s music and legacy.
Joseph Bologne being a struggling and talented artist but being denied access, career opportunities, and even recognition due to the colour of his skin should have been the forefront of the story and the more the film went on, the more I felt it didn’t feel that way. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some romantic drama, but when it comes to the topics of racism and prejudice, Chevalier could have been so much more.
What was also frustrating were the accents of the film. They were all inconsistent. If audiences hadn’t been told that this was set in France and if Marie Antoniette wasn’t such a historical renown name, I wouldn’t have been sure where this film was set. There were American accents, British accents, Australian accents, but everyone was meant to be from France. Meant to be. Nobody sounded like they were French.
Despite the poor execution of accents throughout the movie, I quite enjoyed Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s performance as Joseph Bologne. Not only does Harrison Jr. put on a dynamic, fierce, and passionate performance, but he even learnt to play the violin for this role. Which clearly shows whenever his character is playing the instrument, you can tell he is really playing and not just pretending to. Honestly, this is a compliment to not only Harrison Jr.’s craft but also his portrayal.
Overall, there were only really two redeeming things about Chevalier. The costuming is stunning. I really loved what all the rich characters were wearing, but I especially adored Marie Antoniette’s dresses. It is also thanks to the existence of Chevalier; I am now aware that Joseph Bologne lived.
After the film I ended up deep-diving on the internet to research and look up more about this brilliant composer. And if the point of this film was to tell the world and make sure people know Joseph Bologne existed, then the film has done exactly what it set out to do. Even though the execution wasn’t the best, none of which is Harrison Jr.’s fault. This lead actor did the best he could with what he was given, despite his character being shown chasing pussy more than making music.