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‘Chevalier’ Gives A Black Virtuoso His Flowers – Review

Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, was an unrivaled talent in late 1700s France. Think of him as a rockstar of his generation. With charm, intelligence, and plenty of talent to match, Bologne was a force to be reckoned with, but his legacy and his work remained hidden due to racist attempts to hide it. The film Chevalier serves as a window into the life of one of the world’s first Black violin virtuosos. Brought to life by the acting talents of Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Chevalier serves as a reminder of how Black people work twice as hard to get half as far and how many of our stories go untold.

When Chevalier starts, we see a child born of a French slave master and an enslaved Black woman from Guadeloupe with an immense gift for the arts. Taken away from his mother and sent to a boarding school in France, Bologne’s life is shaped by two things: his father’s words telling him that no one can deny excellence and the racism that shapes his youth. While his father’s words push him to excel as a renaissance man, the need to excel for the acceptance of his white peers is a driving force as well. 

Kelvin Harrison Jr. in Chevalier
(Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

Becoming the Chevalier de Saint-Georges is a byproduct of this, but it never brings true acceptance. This film zeros in on how no matter what Bologne does, he’s never seen as an equal, let alone human – an experience that many Black people who navigate white spaces will heavily relate to. But many others seek to connect further to their roots and community when met with these spaces. The range within this story is written well by screenwriter Stefani Robinson and portrayed effectively by Harrison.

Harrison’s Bologne is charismatic, bold, and unapologetic, almost like the Prince of that time. The film truly revolves around his talents. Thankfully, the ensemble’s acting ability, the ornate setting, and the various classical pieces bring us into a different time period. However, the inconsistency in accents takes you out of it. 

(Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

Still, Lucy Boynton’s Marie Antoinette is fun, shady, and a bit messy, as is Minnie Driver’s La Guimard. Ronke Adekoluejo’s Nanon, the mother to Bologne, brings a sense of quiet grace to the film and serves as a living example of the impact of colonialism, slavery, and racism to ground a film that blurs fiction and fact. Unfortunately, she doesn’t shine until the end of the second act/early part of the third act (a shame since she has a lovely on-screen presence), serving as a cultural bridge reconnecting Bologne with his Blackness. 

While Bologne is the lead, the next name on the call sheet is Samara Weaving, who plays Marie-Josephine. The talented wife of Marquis De Montalembert (Martin Csokas), she becomes the focal point of an opera that Bologne develops and becomes the object of his affections. 

(Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

The chemistry between Weaving and Harrison is very much alive, and Weaving’s acting is charming as ever. While their relationship is supposed to highlight a few things – the treatment of Black people in 1700s France and (white) women’s rights during that time period – unfortunately, the focus on their Bridgerton-esque relationship seems to detract from the development of his artistry and more on ensuring that there’s a love story for entertainment purposes. 

But the film is enjoyable, and Robinson’s writing, Stephen Williams’ directing, Jess Hall’s cinematography, and Kris Bowers’ music direction show the care that went into giving flowers to a Black virtuoso. The desire to focus more on this Black virtuoso’s accomplishments are there; the blurring of fact and fiction comes into play because of the loss of history surrounding Bologne’s life. Still, Chevalier honors Bologne’s legacy as best as it can to ensure that more untold Black stories can be known. 

Rating: 7/10

Chevalier is now playing in theaters.

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