Jamie Skinner reviews: Chevalier, Joseph Bologne (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) finds himself in a contest to lead the Paris Opera, with talk of revolution rising in France his race and background are further discriminated against by his high-class peers.

Chevalier Cert - Cert - 12, Run-time - 1 hour 48 minutes, Director - Stephen Williams

Perhaps it’s down to my ignorance (I used to play percussion and would quite like to know how to play the banjo and steel pan) but I never knew a violin duel could be so exciting. Yet, there’s a captivating nature to the musical battle between Chevalier Joseph Bologne (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and praised foreign composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Joseph Prowen). Excelling in the worlds of music and fencing, the Chevalier is determined to take over the Paris Opera.

However, with this being a highly sought after title close friend Marie Antoinette (Lucy Boynton) suggests a contest. Whoever produces the best opera receives the prestigious role. However, as talk of revolution grows in the streets of France, Bologne finds that his race and background, not just as an illegitimate child, are frequently prodded at by his high-society peers.

The core creation of the opera is a somewhat conventional set of events. This includes the title character’s affair with his lead actress, Marie-Josephine (Samara Weaving). While her husband, the Marquis de Montalembert (Marton Csokas), has forbidden her from parading around on stage the consequences may be even more severe for the maestro himself. There’s a familiarity to these central elements, yet thanks to the performances at the centre of the film - particularly the slight charm of Harrison Jr, alongside Weaving and Boynton - and the visual detail, especially in the costume design of this period drama there’s a good deal to engage in.

Where the cliche truly comes through is in the final half hour. Before this there have been occasional glimpses relating to the revolution, or the protagonist’s mother (Ronke Adekoluejo) - now free from her son’s slaveowner father - residing in his home, offering occasional pieces of wisdom to guide him to realise who he really is. Yet, in the closing stages a new focus somewhat drifts in with a greater sense of convention. There are still engaging factors (again, the performances and technical elements), but not quite on the same level as those in the first hour. One sequence in particular feels as if it’s from a different film entirely. In the moment it’s understandable, yet still comes across as slightly odd.

These final points seem mostly in place to show more of the figure whose story has only recently been rediscovered. It’s a point that’s been featured in the advertising, and mentioned at the end of the film. Yet, throughout the film deals with itself without treating everything with a sense of shaded mystery. Perhaps this is part of where the convention comes through, but it at least allows for a direct nature to the story which is told, particularly when it comes to the core narrative.

Jamie Skinner, Four stars ****