The rise of violinist and composer Joseph Bologne into the French elite is elegantly spotlit in this biographical drama from Stephen Williams.
Born in Guadeloupe as the illegitimate son of a French nobleman, musical prodigy Joseph is taken from his slave mother to be educated in Paris. Also a champion fencer, Joseph makes his name in 1760s society and is made a chevalier by Marie Antoinette. In the king’s court, he seeks to become director of Paris Opera, where he then falls for leading singer Marie-Josephine. But when Marie-Josephine’s vicious husband begins to cause trouble, it becomes all to clear that few are willing to let a mixed-race man succeed on his own terms.
With a superb cast and a narrative that’s loaded with themes that are bracingly relevant today, it’s a brisk but lavish production. Kelvin Harrison is charismatic as the likeably cocky Joseph, who is often blinded by ambition. With his talent, it seems horrific that people simply push him aside. While known as the “Black Mozart”, Bologne was clearly much more than that. It’s telling that it has taken so long to tell his story, a fact that only highlights the themes of bigotry and privilege that are woven throughout.
Please note: The film will start at 2pm with trailers running 15 minutes before.