The Stream: Kind of boring and melodramatic.
The Big Screen: Great music punctuates the story of the violinist and composer.
The Final Bill: Joseph Bologne is a worthy subject of a biopic, but this one doesn’t do his talent justice.– Trip Fontaine
Director: Stephen Williams
Writers: Stefani Robinson
Stars: Kelvin Harrison Jr., Samara Weaving, Lucy Boynton, Ronke Adekoluejo, Marton Csokas, Minnie Driver, Sian Clifford
Genre: Drama, Biography, History
Rating: PG-13 for thematic content, some strong language, suggestive material and violence
Runtime: 1 hour 42 minutes
Production Companies: Element Pictures, Searchlight Pictures, Stillking Films
Platform: In theaters on April 21, 2023
Notable Trailers: Love Again, Blue Beetle, Oppenheimer, The Little Mermaid, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Bonjour, Le Streamers! Have you ever heard of Jospeh Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges? Well, I hadn’t! This Chevalier is a violinist and composer of French and African descent, who reached wide acclaim prior to the French Revolution. Apparently, he was the earliest European composer of African descent to reach such heights and even had a friendly rapport with the French queen of the time, Marie Antoinette. Anyway, Chevalier tells a slice of this man’s life lavished with great music and costumes. Here’s how it goes.
Chevalier is kind of a biopic, but it is not one of those cradle-to-grave types. In this movie, we get a glimpse of Joseph Bologne’s father dropping him off at a prestigious academy that would hone his violin and fencing skills. Joseph (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) wouldn’t fit in because he is the son of a slave and the slave master from Guadeloupe, and even though his father is a wealthy white man with a title, Joseph is still black. He’s treated terribly despite his considerable talents. Nevertheless, Joseph is talented enough to catch the eye of Marie Antoinette (Lucy Boynton), who bestows the title of Chevalier on him. The bulk of the film focuses on his quest to become the director of the Paris Opera and the challenges he faced professionally and romantically due to his race. Dueling violin and powdered wig hijinks ensue.
My biggest gripe with Chevalier is that it overdramatizes a story that is inherently interesting and focuses on the most basic aspects of the story. Although cradle-to-grave biopics are pretty trite, Joseph Bologne’s story is relatively unknown, so a full account of his life might have been more interesting. The plot of this movie is pretty boring by comparison and leads you to just want to read Wikipedia about this man. The themes about racial identity and classism feel sidelined for more salacious aspects of a story that probably aren’t even true. That’s pretty frustrating especially considering how great the music created by this man is and that he actually led a military regiment in the French Revolution, which we are only told in post-script. The movie begins with a dynamic competition between Mozart and Joseph Bologne, and it never lives up to that first scene.
Ultimately, Chevalier is a biopic with a lot of potential. It has an interesting subject in Joseph Bologne, but it focuses on melodrama that is actually pretty boring. The music throughout is the most engaging part. I can only suggest a handful of popcorn for this one because it is a story that people should know about but this movie doesn’t do him justice.