Historical dramas can be tricky; it’s hard to bring accuracy and authenticity while trying to captivate an audience. And where Chevalier succeeds with a decently entertaining story, it does falter slightly with the facts. There are certainly times when it’s tempting to pull up a Wikipedia entry or deep dive into whether Marie Antoinette (Lucy Boynton) and the Chevalier de Saint-Georges (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) were actually close or if Marie-Josephine (Samara Weaving) was a real person. If you’re a history nerd with a passion for accuracy and period dramas, this might be a tad hard to sit through.
For example, Chevalier starts off with our lead, Joseph Bologne, aka the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, showing up to a Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart concert and completely embarrassing the pompous protege with his violin talents. While it doesn’t seem like this event happened, it’s a creative way to showcase how Bologne was the bane of Mozart’s existence while living in Paris—being dubbed “the Black Mozart” later on—and was every bit as cool and accomplished as he’s made out to be in this film.
So while the film plays loosely with the facts, Harrison plays Bologne in a way that garners empathy and makes you root for him, even when he’s not the most pleasant. He’s the son of a rich white plantation owner and an African enslaved person, and because of his musical abilities, he’s sent off to receive proper education (and torn away from his mother, who is still his father’s property). He’s beaten and ridiculed, met with white supremacist ideology at every turn; but still, his brilliance catapults him up to the queen’s court (which did happen). The story showcases a man who’s trying to maintain the excellence that has made him somewhat equal to those around him while still feeling hesitant to accept his heritage.
The cast is entertaining and fun, with Minnie Driver playing Marie-Madeleine Guimard, Fleabag’s Sian Clifford playing Madame de Genlis, and Marton Csokas playing Marc René, marquis de Montalembert and Marie-Josephine’s husband. Ronke Adekoluejo plays Joseph’s mother in a heartwarming and strong performance. The movie wraps up in a nice ribbon, with Bologne’s mother telling him, “Choice comes from within; there’s always a choice to fight,” rounding out the movie with a lesson to be learned. PG-13, 107 min.