Yesterday on the Disney Studio Lot, an event was held to celebrate today’s digital release of Chevalier, the highly acclaimed theatrical film about Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (Chevalier). If you haven’t heard of Chevalier – and I hadn’t – that’s all the more reason to see this film.
Chevalier, an 18th century Frenchman, is considered the first composer of color to achieve prominence in Europe. The illegitimate son of a French plantation owner with one of his slaves, Chevalier nevertheless took full advantage of the schooling he was offered to ascend into French society … at least as much as a creole could in the 18th century. And while the movie is mainly focused on his achievements as a composer and the challenges that followed, it also touches on some of Chevalier’s other accomplishments including being a champion fencer, a violinist and a participant in the French Revolution.
The event was an outdoor screening of Chevalier and its “making of” bonus feature. But prior to the start, guests had the opportunity to hear about a 20-minute solo performance by Drew Alexander Forde AKA ThatViolaKid, which was spectacular.
Bill Gowsell did Laughing Place’s review of Chevalier back in September, noting its excellence both in front of and behind the camera. I wholeheartedly agree with him. The performances of the two leads, Kelvin Harrison Jr (Chevalier) and Samara Weaving (Marie-Josephine), particularly stood out. Minnie Driver’s La Guimard was also memorable for me as was the music itself which was a blend of Chevalier compositions and original score.
A film like this, based on a little-known true story, is especially well-served by a good “making of” featurette. Among the gems we learned was that Kelvin Harrison Jr had never picked up a violin prior to this film, yet all the playing on screen was actually him. Director Stephen Williams, a native of Jamaica explained why this story about someone he had not heard of before receiving the script, resonated so much with him. The discussion of the music with composer Kris Bowers was also really interesting when you consider incorporating Chevalier’s existing compositions while also creating original music to set the period and mood of the film.
And, yes, this is a period piece, so hearing from the production designer and costume creator about all those little things I never, ever would’ve noticed on my own was particularly insightful here. We also hear from writer Stefani Robinson and several other actors including Samara Weaving, Ronke Adekoluejo (Nanon, Chevalier’s mother), Minnie Driver and Lucy Boynton (Marie Antoinette).
Even if you caught Chevalier in theaters, checking out the home release and the featurette are well worth your time. And if you didn’t see it in theaters, here’s your chance to get acquainted with this immense talent, Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, who deserves to be remembered.