Audiences looking for a French historical costume drama should look elsewhere, but those who enjoy British period comedies will love it. With a pointed dash of history and politics, this is a silly movie about social status, and it's so well written and played that only cynics won't have a lot of fun with it. Thankfully, the talent both in front of and behind the camera keep the focus on the lively characters, which makes it engaging on a deeper level than expected.
The fictional story is set around real events in 1682 France, as King Louis XIV (Alan Rickman) was planning to move his court from Paris to Versailles, a vast palace still under construction. The final project there is the expansive garden, which landscaper Andre (Matthias Schoenaerts) has to complete on deadline and under budget. And everyone is shocked when he hires the little-known Sabine (Kate Winslet) to build an outdoor ballroom and fountain. But he has been smitten with her skill and passion for gardening, and there's also a gently gurgling romantic spark between them as well. The problem is that his high-society wife (Helen McCrory) notices this and sets out to sabotage Sabine's work.
There's not much here that's historically accurate, from the frankly outrageous costumes to the English filming locations and dialogue that buzzes with specifically British humour. But it's so breezy and snappy that all we can do is sit back and enjoy it for what it is. Those who do so may even find some underlying resonance in the discussions of order and chaos in landscape design, as well as the way honesty is like a blast of fresh air in a world constrained by status. Indeed, the film's most memorable scene is a gorgeously written and played chance encounter between Sabine and the King in which they initially don't know who the other is.
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In the palace of Versailles, a tremendous garden is maintained. One day, the builder and head gardener sees an ordinary woman arriving at the palace, and, throwing aside ideas of conformity, chooses to rearrange some of the garden into something that pleases her. He takes her on with the hopes of updating and adding some life to the traditional gardens, and steadily begins to fall for her. As she finds difficulty integrating into the high society that he is from, he ensures her that, in fact, she is envied by the upper classes for her newness. But when that envy turns into something more, the gardener will have to fight tooth and nail to maintain the garden, their love, and their lives.
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