‘Chevalier’ Review: Kelvin Harrison Jr. Blossoms in Sumptuous however Shaky Biopic of a Classical Violinist

When Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, died in Paris in 1799, his pal — J.S.A. Cuvelier — wrote an affectionate obituary about him in an arts newspaper. He known as Saint-Georges “the most amazing of his century by the variety and superiority of his talents.” He sprinkled adjectives like “generous,” “gallant,” “witty” and “sensitive” all through. There was little that Saint-Georges, the kid of a white Frenchman and his Guadalupian slave mistress, couldn’t do: He was a loyal pal, a champion of the folks, a talented fencer, a dancer, an mental and, maybe most famously, an excellent composer.

You would possibly know Saint-Georges because the Black Mozart, an inaccurate shorthand that emerged with the revival of his legacy years in the past. But the grasp of violin concertos was rather more than the shadow of his white contemporaries, a sentiment underscored in Stephen Williams’ ebullient however tottering biopic Chevalier. The movie, which stars Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Waves) because the titular French nobleman, lifts Saint-Georges from the annals of music historical past and transforms him right into a rockstar — a classical Jimi Hendrix, if you’ll.


The Bottom Line

Aesthetically magnetic, narratively doubtful.

Shaped by Williams’ glossy course and Stefani Robinson’s eclectic screenplay, the composer’s life adopts an lively and apocryphal sheen. This isn’t the mission dutiful historians or accuracy czars have been ready for, however its shiny end and accessible narrative will convert novices of this fascinating slice of classical musical historical past.  

A zealous violin battle introduces us to Saint-Georges (an arresting Harrison). He emerges from the shadows of a live performance corridor, the place a younger Mozart (Joseph Prowen) has requested his viewers for tune requests. The Black composer saunters to the pit in mock deference: Would Mozart, he asks, permit him to play alongside him? The initially amicable duet morphs into an smug face off, a contest of bowing and plucking string devices and jagged physique motion. Saint-Georges woos the enraptured crowd of Parisian the Aristocracy and leaves Mozart within the mud.

That charming opening leads the way in which into a quick origin story. Chevalier nimbly establishes how Saint-Georges rose by the ranks of the French courtroom, developed his musical abilities and formed his effervescent character. He was born Joseph Bologne in 1745 to George (Jim Hight), a Frenchman, and his slave mistress, Nanon (a wasted Ronke Adekoluejo), in Guadalupe. When Joseph was 8 years-old, George despatched him to France for education, separating him from his mom and the island life he was solely simply starting to grasp. According to historians, significantly American violinist Gabriel Banat’s biography The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and the Boy, mom and son have been quickly reunited when George later moved Nanon to France. And though Joseph initially confronted racism in school, he rapidly charmed his classmates and ascended socially.

Williams’ movie takes a barely completely different route, depicting a younger Joseph bullied by his friends, inspired by his father to all the time be one of the best and separated from his mom till his grownup years. Chevalier zips ahead once more — editor John Axelrad’s transitions are crisp and Kris Bowers’ rating grandiose — to Joseph defeating his opponent in a duel for the leisure of Marie Antoinette (Lucy Boynton). He’s rewarded with the title Saint-Georges de Chevalier, which comes with an elevated profile and entry to Parisian the Aristocracy.

The bulk of Chevalier takes place throughout a stretch of years when Saint-Georges was thought-about for the conductor position on the Paris opera (essentially the most prestigious place) and started collaborating in revolutionary efforts. The movie levels this potential appointment as a contest between him and Christopher Gluck (Henry Lloyd-Hughes). Not one to again down from a problem, Saint-Georges plunges himself into writing his opera Ernestine, a devastating romance. He casts a singer (Samara Weaving) he stumbled upon at a royal social gathering and turns into obsessed along with her. The two begin an affair that not solely threatens to destroy Saint-Georges’ life, however Chevalier as properly.

Romance is a difficult flip in biopics about figures virtually misplaced to historical past. Like Emily, one other Toronto entry, Chevalier subtly pins the drive of its genius to a dangerous love affair. Perhaps this an try at universality, a bid to win viewers affection. But after a gutsy buildup, the love story is generally predictable and a bore.

It additionally wastes different performances — most disappointingly Adekoluejo, who performs Saint-Georges’ mom. After the loss of life of George, the patriarch, Nanon arrives at her son’s doorstep able to make a life in Paris. But her character by no means fairly develops into somebody value caring about; she is a proxy for her son’s cultural re-education, the one who introduces him to a distinct, extra Black aspect of Paris.  

The latter half of Chevalier obediently fills the holes of its acquainted puzzle. The solid — an exquisite bunch — maintain our curiosity with their congenial performances. Harrison is particularly spry as he balances Saint-Georges’ confidence, jovial comportment and rumored mood. His command of the character’s complexities (even when his accent is shaky) confirms the performer can shoulder the tasks of a lead position.

Even so, the journey to the top of Chevalier seems like a race to wrap up the narrative threads launched and shovel in additional of the composer’s historical past. When we breathlessly arrive on the end line, Chevalier regains among the vitality from the start. Glimmers of the conductor’s rebellious streak, the “precious qualities of the heart” of which his pal, Cuvelier, spoke so fondly come by in a righteous ultimate sequence. As the credit roll, supplying extra data, one can’t assist however bristle at the truth that that is the primary try and depict such a magnetic soul. Let’s hope it’s not the final.  

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