Historical drama Chevalier plays on the heartstrings by recounting the story of a tragically overlooked musician. The talented Kelvin Harrison Jr. plays the real-life figure Joseph Bologne who invited admiration and scandal in equal measure via his dynamic violin playing in 18th-century France.
With the movie now on release at Cineworld, here's what you need to know about it.
What is the story of Chevalier?
Chevalier adapts the story of Joseph Bologne aka Chevalier de Saint-George, who broke down boundaries as a pioneering artist of colour. The movie resurrects the story of this prodigiously talented string player who at one stage was said to rival Mozart. (The film's memorable opening scene sees Bologne take on Mozart in what's surely the period equivalent of a modern-day rap battle.)
Bologne was born on Christmas Day, 1745 as the son of French settler Georges de Bologne Saint-Georges and an African slave. Said slave served as the maid to Georges' wife Elisabeth, but Joseph nevertheless recognised his son and granted him his surname.
The movie explores Joseph's ascension through the ranks of French high society, beginning when his father enrolls him at music school in Paris. Joseph later cements his status by presenting in the court of Marie-Antoinette who grants him the title of Chevalier de Saint-George.
However, despite his evident abilities, Joseph is ostracised by the prejudicial and racist nature of the circles in which he operates. An eventual scandal threatens his reputation altogether as he is forced to reconcile his skills with the corrupt nature of the individuals for whom he's performing.
Following the storming of the Bastille and the onset of the French Revolution, Joseph finds himself infused with a radical spirit as he finds kinship with those seeking to overthrow the elite.
“The fact that I didn’t know about this person and his imprint on our collective cultural history felt really compelling and, as [screenwriter Stefani Robinson] has often quite rightly said, the hallmarks of Chevalier’s life are intrinsically cinematic," director Stephen Williams tells WhyNow. "They’re crying out to be rendered in visual form on the big screen."
Or, to put it in the words of Robinson herself: "[Joseph Bologne] had swagger!"
Who stars in Chevalier?
Chevalier himself is portrayed by the versatile Kelvin Harrison Jr. This rising star has distinguished himself with emotionally intense roles in the likes of paranoid thriller It Comes At Night (2017), high school drama Luce (2019) and the kaleidoscopic coming-of-age family tale Waves (also 2019).
“[Joseph Bologne] is such an enigma,” Harrison tells Elle. “A theme that I like to explore in all my films is identity and what it means to be a young person of color navigating white spaces. Joseph was just another chapter of that, but also an iconic one. And what I like about playing real people is that it’s an opportunity for transformation.”
Given that he had to play one of the greatest violinists in the history of the French court, Harrison Jr. had to push himself and learn to play the instrument for real. Watch the following video and discover how he paired with the noted violin teacher Ronald Long (who also appears in the movie).
Backing up Harrison is Ready or Not star Samara Weaving who plays Marie-Joséphine de Comarieu de Montalembert, the woman with whom he has an affair that undermines his distinguished reputation.
Sing Street's Lucy Boynton portrays Marie Antoinette, France's last Queen before the Revolution who famously uttered, "Let them eat cake" and was later executed via the guillotine.
Other big names in the cast include Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting) as French ballerina Marie-Madeleine Guimard, and Martin Csokas (The Equalizer) as Marie-Joséphine's seething husband Marc René, Marquis de Montalembert.
Who composed the soundtrack for Chevalier?
Music is, of course, the lifeblood of Chevalier, the soundtrack splitting the difference between new arrangements of pre-existing classical pieces, arranged by Michael Abels, and original dramatic compositions from Kris Bowers.
Abels has earned acclaim via his collaborations with Jordan Peele on Get Out (2017), Us (2019) and Nope (2022). He says it was vital to stay true to the aesthetics of the period while also infusing the on-screen playing, performed by Harrison Jr. and several other actors, with a sense of modernity.
“Each [on-camera] performance piece needed to feel authentic to the scene that you see it in," Abels tells Variety. "At the same time, we are portraying Joseph as a modern person whose story speaks to us today.”
During the aforementioned Mozart music battle, the sequence starts with a performance of the latter's Violin Concerto No. Five, only for Joseph to turn up and dominate the scene with his own playing. "The Joseph solos take on a modern, Jimi-Hendrix style tone so the music reflects what we’d expect to hear in that situation," Abels explains.
In the same interview, Kris Bowers, composer of hit period drama series Bridgerton, says of his contributions to the soundtrack: "I looked at tragic love stories. I thought about Romeo and Juliet, and the darkness to those emotional love themes."
He adds: "It was about encapsulating those feelings that [Joseph and Marie-Joséphine] felt for one another, without it being too dark or too sweet and lovey.”
Where can we book tickets for Chevalier?
Click the link below to book your tickets for Chevalier. The movie is on release now at Cineworld.