Starring: Kelvin Harrison Jr., Samara Weaving, Lucy Boynton, Ronke Adekoluejo, Marton Csokas, Sian Clifford, Minnie Driver, and Alex Fitzalan
Director: Stephen Williams
Chevalier can often feel familiar in its approach, but it’s such a fascinating true story, told with such conviction and power, that I couldn’t help but revel at it. The aesthetic is something to behold, with its production and costume design going beyond just a typical period piece. There is genuine flair and pizzazz to be found here. Samara Weaving is delightful, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. soars with his performance as Joseph Bologne. He displays so much charm and humanity into this forgotten figure. A more nuanced look at Bologne’s life would have been nice, but it’s still a riveting tale, nonetheless.
The opening of Chevalier plays like a rap battle, and it’s with that sort of relentlessness in which Kelvin Harrison Jr. attacks the title role. His unabating strength and insatiable charm is matched by director Stephen Williams’ use of tracking shots personably focused on foreground characters. This pushes an unwavering pace that initially highlights heavy-handed racial themes and an otherwise magnificent Samara Weaving’s spotty accent. But as these flaws are evened out further into the fierce narrative, the juxtaposition of Harrison and Williams’ brute force with touching points of tender subtext made for a thrilling retelling of lesser known portions of world history.
For all of its posturing regarding how legendary Joseph Bologne was as a classical composer and virtuoso violinist, it is a bit disappointing that Chevalier only seems to want to play the most basic notes of his story. Don’t get me wrong, the movie works overall, standing squarely on the strength of Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s lead performance, but it also moves through most of the story without actually exploring the nuances of various situations, instead simply presenting them as being. That said, the first and last five minutes of the film are equally thrilling, and the music itself is beautiful.
This film was reviewed by Adriano as part of Bitesize Breakdown's coverage of the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.