Chevalier Parent Guide
Well written and evenly paced, this film tells a complex tale about a profoundly gifted man struggling against the bigotry of his age.
Parent Movie Review
When Joseph Bologne (Reuben Anderson) is left at French boarding school by his father (Jim Hugh), he is given one piece of advice: “You must be excellent. Always excellent. No one may tear down an excellent Frenchman.”
The advice is critical because many want to see Joseph fail. His father is a French plantation owner in Guadeloupe, but his mother (Ronke Adekoluejo) is an enslaved Black woman. As a person of color, Joseph is disdained by some in France as “the dark pestilence” or as part of a “subhuman race”. For him, excellence is a refuge; proof that he belongs in the French elite.
In his pursuit of social acceptance, Joseph (played as an adult by Kelvin Harrison Jr.) becomes an expert swordsman, a skilled dancer, a violin virtuoso, and one of the most famous composers in pre-revolutionary France. He impresses Queen Marie Antoinette (Lucy Boynton), who grants him a title – Chevalier de Saint Georges (the French equivalent to a knighthood).
Joseph accepts the title as his due, his confidence in his abilities often shading into arrogance. Determined to establish his status atop the music world, Joseph aims high, seeking to be named the conductor of the Paris Opera, a quest that triggers unexpected and tragic consequences…
Chevalier is a fascinating film about a remarkable man who was lost to history when Napoleon banned his music a few years after his death. The movie is as ambitious as its subject, attempting to weave together biography, musical history, reflections on racism, and the beginnings of the French Revolution. In this effort, the well written script usually succeeds, managing to avoid both bloat and incoherence. Joseph’s amours almost slip into soap opera territory but the writing is tight enough to avoid mawkish sentimentality.
There is no denying that the story features a fair bit of negative content. Adultery is a plot point as is promiscuity; thankfully there is no explicit nudity. There are only a few profanities in the film, but people drink alcohol almost constantly. Violent episodes are particularly disturbing since several are racially motivated and demonstrate the contemptuous disdain with which the French elite view the rest of the population.
Fans of historical movies and classical music will find Chevalier worth watching. It reintroduces Joseph’s music to a modern audience and provides a brief sketch of the conditions that contributed to the Revolution. Disturbingly, this story is reminder that racism has a long and ugly past, fueling violence and hate and smothering talent and diversity. The tale also illustrates the power of family bonds, the strength that comes with self-respect, and the innate dignity of all people. The legacy of the Chevalier de Saint Georges might have been erased by a despot, but the message of liberté, egalité, fraternité (liberty, equality, brotherhood) still resonates today.
Directed by Stephen Williams. Starring Kelvin Harrison Jr., Samara Weaving, Minnie Driver. Running time: 107 minutes. Theatrical release April 21, 2023. Updated April 22, 2023
Watch the trailer for Chevalier
Rating & Content Info
Why is Chevalier rated PG-13? Chevalier is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for thematic content, some strong language, suggestive material and violence.
Violence: A schoolboy is beaten by fellow students in a racially motivated attack. A man is attacked by a group of men and threatened with maiming. A man is restrained by a group of men and is punched in the stomach. It is reported that a man murders a newborn child. A man points a gun at another man but does not fire. Angry protesters throng the streets. A distraught woman is grabbed and physically restrained by men.
Sexual Content: There are frequent scenes of passionate kissing. There is reference to a man “bedding” several women. Adultery is a plot point. A man and woman are seen embracing in bed with strategically placed bedsheets. A scene of a debauched “morning after” shows partially clad people sleeping on several pieces of furniture: a sleeping man is in bed with two women, one of whose bare back is seen. Two women are briefly seen kissing in the background of a court scene. A woman tries to seduce a man and seeks revenge when she is rejected.
Profanity: There is a single sexual expletive in the script as well as a scatological curse and a couple of terms of deity. A woman is described as a whore and a slang term for illegitimacy is used. Racial slurs are employed to demean Black characters.
Alcohol / Drug Use: People drink alcohol at social events, with meals, and while at work. A main character gets drunk to cope with disappointment.
Page last updated April 22, 2023
Chevalier Parents' Guide
Joseph Bologne was a real person and you can learn more about him below:
The Guardian: “Why has this person been erased?” the untold story of the Black French maestro
Wikipedia: Chevalier de Saint-Georges
You can listen to Joseph Bologne’s music online:
YouTube: Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint George – Violin Concertos
YouTube: Classical music by Joseph Boulogne Chevalier de Saint Georges
Related home video titles:
If you’re interested in more films about revolutionary-era France, you can watch Les Miserables, an adaptation of the famous novel by Victor Hugo. The story of the doomed queen is told in Marie Antoinette, which stars Kirsten Dunst in the title role. Delicious is set in the countryside during the early days of the Revolution and tells the story of a couple who developed an early restaurant.