Madame is a young (ish) widow and has a sad back story to justify why she is trying to hold down a job in this man’s world. At first things are frosty between her and the broody Le Notre who is a man of few words at best, but soon he very slowly reveals that he has designs on her body and as well as her body of her work. When Madame Le Notre discovers this even though she has no hope of winning her husband’s affection back, she is determined that Madame de Barra doesn’t get them either, so she plots to put a dampener on their budding relationship. Literally.
Meanwhile the common born Madame de Barra is like a fish out water amidst the scheming superficial and over-dressed aristocratic courtesans but in an accidental meeting she attracts the attention of the King. He is alone and grieving for his recently deceased Queen, but is quickly captivated by the straight-talking Madame de Barra which sets the seal of approval for her new garden, even though it really was never in any doubt.
The trouble with this well-meaning lavishly produced French costume drama is that it all seemed so frightfully English. Shot in the English countryside with a totally English cast (save for a lone Belgian and one American) and with an English (and Irish) scriptwriter and director too, there was barely a hint of anything ‘francais’.
Starring Kate Winslet who as usual puts in a stunning performance as the tough single-minded Sabina de Barra and she doesn’t even wince once when she has to churn out some lines that are much more suited to a contemporary soap-opera e.g. describing La Notre ‘He is the most complete person I know.’
Co-starring with her is Matthias Schoenearts who seemed totally stunned at times as he played her erstwhile lover with almost a complete lack of emotion, unlike Stanley Tucci playing the King’s bisexual brother who just camped his way up through the whole thing. Louis was played by Alan Rickman who was also behind the camera for a second time (the first being ‘A Winters Guest’ back in 1997) and he gave himself one of the best scenes in the movie with his surprise encounter with Madam de Barra in the garden.
The oddest thing was at the end of this two hour long drama with all it’s hype of what an excellent gardener Madam de Barra was, there was barely a single plant to be seen in her finished project. A tad disconcerting and disappointing, a little like the whole movie itself.