Don’t go see “A Little Chaos” for the gardens


chaos 1

A movie about the gardens of Versailles starring Kate Winslet opens today! Imagine my excitement when one of the many publicists who contacted me about it invited me to a free screening.

It’s titled A Little Chaos and here’s the synopsis: “A romantic drama following Sabine, a talented landscape designer, who is building a garden at Versailles for King Louis XIV. Sabine struggles with class barriers as she becomes romantically entangled with the court’s renowned landscape artist.”  (Um, isn’t a “landscape artist” someone who paints them?)

I was intrigued by the title, promising the theme of chaos versus order, with chaos presumably championed by the Winslet character. She’s shown above in her own funky garden, seen only briefly in the film. Enjoy that shot – of a work of set design, not a garden – because it’s the only pretty outdoor scene in this movie about a garden and its designers.

The gardens at Versailles were indeed designed by Andre Le Notre, a character in the movie, and they included an outdoor ballroom. That’s where history ends and fiction begins because the Sabine character commissioned to design it and everything else that happens in the movie is made up.

Fine. But with that much creative license, critics are wondering why the plot is so lame.  And I agree.  As a movie-goer I’d give “A Little Chaos” 2 stars out of 5, and feel generous at that.

As a gardener, I give it zero stars.  Here’s what the “garden” looks like for most of the movie: .  chaos4 And after two hours of build-up we finally see the finished product, designed by this purported proponent of chaos: chaos0 See any plants? You won’t because the “garden” is actually a waterworks project. Here’s a close-up: chaos3 That’s the Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts, who plays Le Notre. He’s even more bland here than in “Far from the Madding Crowd,” another recent release.

At the screening I was sitting with garden writer Kathy Jentz, who nudged me to point out that the vines behind the actors in one scene were fake.  Where was the garden consultant on this movie about a garden? Or for that matter, the garden designer or garden historian? 

As one reviewer noted:

Not that this film about landscape designers gives two shits about landscape design: The taming of Versailles’ vast and verdant acres is depicted through a few vague montages, Sabine and her employer consulting some briefly glimpsed diagrams while talking shop. Here, gardening is more of a metaphor for relationships, and the characters don’t miss a single opportunity to directly compare themselves to greenery. “Like a good plant, I submit,” Le Notre tells his new co-worker, who later echoes the sentiment by confirming her need to adapt, “like a well-trained plant.” In case the point hasn’t landed, Winslet also delivers the floral equivalent of that celebrated porch speech from Sideways, in this case instructing the king on the importance of warmth and attentiveness while nurturing a rose.

The publicists for the movie don’t know squat about gardens, either. I got a laugh from these suggestions for GardenRant, from a New York-based PR firm:

We’ve also been brainstorming editorial ideas, and we thought that your site would be a great fit for “Summer Garden Tips & Trends” or “Recreate Your Very Own “Versailles” Inspired Garden.” This feature would showcase “A LITTLE CHAOS” and list out some summer garden tips & trends, or ask your readers to create their own “Versailles” Inspired Garden” (as the film takes place at the gardens of Versailles).

Yes, readers. Why not recreate Versailles in your own backyard?


  1. Well, that’s a disappointment. I admire Alan Rickman as an actor, and I thought any film he’d do would have to be, if not outright good, at least enjoyable. I’ll try to take the charitable view that perhaps the studio execs meddled in it too much, and Rickman is no happier than the rest of us with the finished product. I hope.

    • I don’t know how to say this but I’m struggling to think ANY movie with Alan Rickman in it could be bad! Or David Suchet. Or Helena Bonham Carter. Alan Rickman = best actor of all time! Having said all this, yes, despite the bad review, I still want to see this movie because when you look at the other movie options out there……not good! They all look crappy.

  2. Oh darn, darn, darn! Such a lost opportunity and I so love KW. Thanks for saving me some bucks. Regarding Versailles, I have been lucky enough to visit and I would call it a landscape rather than a garden. Any good garden reflects the hand of the gardener IMnotsohumbleO.

  3. Just as I predicted. One of the great achievements in landscape garden design is reduced to a bland historical romance with no context or reality. A film about Le Notre, his life and his achievements including the master plan for what would become the Champs Elysees and the Tuilleries would be interesting! Why does it take a romance and Kate Winslet to make us take notice? Romance? That this film was made by an English production company just boggles the mind. You think with their culture of gardens they’d know better. I think I’ll go see something else.

  4. Yeah, they can recreate Versailles in their own garden, starting with the Hall of Mirrors, so they can take a good long look at themselves and their choices! 😉

  5. Well, crap. I was looking forward to this – it looked like such fun. But a drippy plot with few plants and even less gardening verisimilitude isn’t going to open my wallet. Thanks for the warning – I’ll wait for it on Netflix.

  6. Any publicity is good publicity, and I’m sure the publicists are happy for it to be discussed here. It’s too bad that it’s not more of a gardener’s movie, especially with two promising leads (KW & AR). Still, I wonder how many of us here will end up streaming it one night in desperation anyway. 🙂

    • Right now Rotten Tomatoes gives it 41 and 47 percent approval. And I gave it 2 stars as a movie-goer. So not “all bad” but good enough to pay your money and spend the time? Let us know. Susan

  7. A friend was just in the gardens of Versailles & posted a several minute video walking thru 3 rooms.

    The gardens, her feet crunching on the gravel, wind thru foliage and music from beyond the hedges, entering a new garden room then slowly panning to show its exquisite delights.

    An Oscar compared to what you describe.

    Garden & Be Well, XOT

  8. Par for the course, someone took a great subject and reduced it to a reality show ..without time-lapse technology. Boo, hiss.

  9. SO disappointing! I was contacted several months ago to see a screening, and was so upset that I had another commitment and couldn’t go. I wondered what happened to the release. Having been in the ‘industry’, a delayed release is usually not a good thing. 🙁

  10. I saw ‘A Little Chaos’ at a screening in Portland last week. While my initial reaction was that I loved the romance, there is so much more that could have been done with this movie. What acting was allowed by the director was decent, depending on the actor/actress. I would have enjoyed seeing more of Stanley Tucci and his character. I do wonder what the non-gardening public thinks of this movie, because as a gardener I am prejudiced. Slim pickin’s when it came to garden viewing, but as a garden designer I enjoyed the installation process of the ballroom. Perhaps this was a high-budget film with a too-low budget?

  11. It sounds like a missed opportunity. Crumbs.
    I guess I will wait until it comes out on CD and hope that my library obtains a copy. For the cost of a movie I rather buy a plant instead… . to create my anti-Versailles.

  12. Well, dang it, I hoped for so much more. A pile of compost huh? Sigh. Such an amazing topic, and they use fake greenery. So frustrating.

  13. We viewed A Little Chaos in the UK where it was released in April. It was a lukewarm romance, stronger in revelation of one woman’s involvement in garden design at that time in history, humorous in its portrayal of Louis XIV’s parenting and gardening predilictions, especially strong with Winslet/Sabine’s schooling the king on human value vs. artistocratic status … disappointingly
    bland but still enjoyable for PG-type entertainment. It sparked curiosity, but not excitement.

  14. Too bad the KW character is fictional. There was a missed opportunity here- how about the rivalry between Louis IV and William of Orange which led to the creation of Versailles (instead of them going to war) and the death of troops from the marsh gas they inhaled whilst draining the land? It seems real life had too much drama, so they decided on a fictional romance instead 🙁

  15. “(Um, isn’t a “landscape artist” someone who paints them?)” –
    Are you serious? This comment right here disqualifies you for Reviewing Anything. (If you are unable to understand the statement as you obviously are).
    Wow !
    Ya- I’m a Guitar Player and when I saw the Ad for “the Wrecking Crew” movie about the History of Studio Artists I was SO disappointed when it talked about the Artists & their Lives instead of being a 2hr slow motion Pan over famous Guitars !

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