“Chevalier” directed by Stephen Williams and penned by Stefani Robinson, is a biographical drama that beautifully captures the life and struggles of the titular character, Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Set against the backdrop of 18th-century France, this film weaves together elements of music, race, ambition, and social upheaval, creating a compelling narrative that explores both the brilliance and hardships of an extraordinary figure in history.
The film opens with a captivating musical duel between Joseph Bologne (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and the iconic Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a mesmerizing introduction that sets the stage for what’s to come. The initial skepticism of both Mozart and the audience toward Joseph’s talents underscores the challenges he faced throughout his life in a society marked by racial prejudice.
Joseph’s journey begins in Guadeloupe, where he is born to George de Bologne, a plantation owner, and Nanon, an enslaved woman of African descent. His remarkable skills at the violin and composition are recognized early on, leading him to be sent to a Parisian boarding school. Here, Joseph’s character is tested as he endures harassment from his peers and teachers. Yet, he excels in his studies, music, and the art of fencing.
The film beautifully illustrates Joseph’s rise in society, where he becomes Chevalier de Saint-Georges and garners admiration at the French court. His talents earn him the favor of Queen Marie Antoinette (Lucy Boynton), and he becomes a beloved member of the court. Notably, Joseph’s story also explores his complex relationship with Marie-Joséphine de Montalembert (Samara Weaving), a lead singer at the Paris Opera, with whom he engages in a passionate affair.
However, the film doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of the era, particularly the racial prejudice and discrimination that Joseph faces as a person of African descent in an aristocratic society. As he gains prominence, Joseph grapples with the need to conform to societal expectations while reconciling his heritage. His mother, Nanon, whom he initially resents, becomes a poignant symbol of his roots and the struggle to assert his identity.
“Chevalier” also delves into the turbulent political climate of the French Revolution, which serves as a backdrop to Joseph’s story. His decision to compose a revolutionary concert in support of the uprising is a pivotal moment, leading to intense confrontations with Marie Antoinette and Marie-Joséphine. The film captures the chaos and uncertainty of the era, emphasizing Joseph’s resilience and unwavering commitment to his beliefs.
The performances in “Chevalier” are outstanding, with Kelvin Harrison Jr. delivering a remarkable portrayal of Joseph Bologne. His portrayal beautifully captures the complexity of the character, from his musical brilliance to the internal struggles he faces in a society that seeks to suppress his identity.
“Chevalier” is a visually striking and emotionally resonant biographical drama that sheds light on the life of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Through its engaging storytelling, exceptional performances, and exploration of themes such as race, ambition, and societal prejudice, the film offers a powerful and thought-provoking cinematic experience. It’s a testament to the enduring legacy of a remarkable historical figure whose story deserves to be celebrated and remembered.