8 November 2022, 12:31 | Updated: 8 November 2022, 12:34
A virtuoso violinist, celebrated composer and champion swordsman – Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges will finally have his story told in a new biopic.
A first trailer has landed for Chevalier, the upcoming biopic inspired by the largely untold story of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a master swordsman, violin virtuoso and composer who delighted the courts of 18th-century France.
Published yesterday by US production company Searchlight Pictures, the trailer has had millions of views in its first 24 hours with many praising the performance of lead actor Kelvin Harrison Jr., who stars alongside Lucy Boynton, Samara Weaving and Minnie Driver.
Scripted by the Emmy-nominated screenwriter Stefani Robinson (What We Do in the Shadows), Chevalier had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and is set to land in US cinemas in spring 2023.
Based on the real story of Joseph Boulogne, the film begins with the composer’s early years. Born the illegitimate son of a young Senegalese slave and a plantation owner, he was taken from Guadeloupe to France as a boy and introduced into French society.
Read more: The life of 18th-century composer Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Boulogne rose to improbable heights as a celebrated violinist-composer and master fencer, his skills with a sword helping him to climb up the social ladder. He became a music teacher in the court of Marie Antoinette, who in the biopic promotes Boulogne to the title of Chevalier.
Harrison Jr is heard saying as Boulogne in the trailer, “I realised the more I excelled, the less I was alone”.
While not much is known about his musical training, Boulogne began his career with the Les Concerts des Amateurs in Paris, rising to the helm of the orchestra in 1773. Under his baton, it became regarded as one of the finest orchestras in Europe.
One of the first Black colonels in the French army, leading 800 infantrymen and 200 cavalries in Europe’s first all-Black regiment, Boulogne was described by US president John Adams as “the most accomplished man in Europe”.
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Directed by Jamaican-Canadian director Stephen Williams (The Walking Dead, Westworld), Chevalier follows the story of a forgotten artist whose musical aptitude delighted 18th-century French society, but whose music has only in recent years begun to reappear in the classical canon and be performed by the world’s orchestras.
The original score comes from Kris Bowers, whose previous work has included the soundtracks for Netflix period drama Bridgerton and 2018 Academy Award winner Green Book, in which he also played Mahershala Ali’s piano hand double in some scenes.
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It is not confirmed whether the film will include music written by Boulogne, which consists as far as we know of three sets of string quartets, two symphonies, eight symphonie-concertantes, six operas comiques, three violin sonatas and 14 violin concertos, with many more likely lost during the French Revolution.
Originally penned as the ‘Black Mozart’ biopic, a controversial nickname attributed to Boulogne’s musical prodigy, as well as popular theory that Mozart swiped Chevalier’s musical ideas, Chevalier will be out in UK and US cinemas on 7 April 2023.