The life of a little-known French Caribbean musician Joseph Bologne is explored in this opulent, beautifully costumed and rather fanciful film about the first European musician and composer of African descent to receive widespread critical acclaim in the late 18th century.
Bologne was a remarkable figure who was a violin virtuoso. He composed operas, symphonies, concertos and chamber music, was an athlete, and one of Europe’s greatest swordsman who spoke seven languages.
Joseph Bologne (Kevin Harrison Jr. in his first feature film) was the illegitimate son of an enslaved African mother Nanon (Ronke Adekoluejo), and a wealthy French plantation owner. Aged seven, he was accepted into a French boarding school after demonstrating his musical and fencing talents.
At the time of the French Revolution his brilliance came to the notice of the court of Marie Antoinette (Lucy Boynton) where he was feted for his skill as composer and virtuoso violinist. He was appointed Chevalier de Saint-Georges (an honorary knighthood) – a remarkable achievement in a society ingrained with racial prejudice.
He lent his support to the revolutionary crowds who gathered in protest at the gates of the Bastille, organizing a concert to help fund the Revolution.
Racial prejudice and rivalry with others came to a head when he applied to be the conductor of the Paris Opera, but the highest musical position in France was thought unsuitable for a person of colour.
Directed by Stephen Williams and written by Stephani Robinson the film has a brilliant musical score by Kris Bowers which includes classical compositions from the 18th century and some of the music by Bologne. The glorious costumes are by Olivia Garcia.
The importance of Joseph Bologne should be recognised more widely – but nearly all his music has been lost. He was largely written out of musical history by Napoleon, who held derogatory opinions about African people.
This is an enjoyable and well-acted movie which leaves the audience wanting to know more about this fascinating, talented, and almost forgotten musician.
Showing at Luna Leederville/Windsor/Luna SX
Watch the trailer…