The first thing you notice is the walk: part strut, part bounce, and all confidence. As Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Kelvin Harrison Jr. radiates the kind of unshakable self-possession that comes with the knowledge of being brilliant, gifted, and adored.
But this is 18th Century France, and Bologne is of mixed race. And even having Queen Marie Antoinette herself on his side won’t protect him from the racism and classism of Paris society.
How Bologne comes to that realization and navigates the highs and lows of both his identity and the world around him comprises the spine of “Chevalier.” It’s a necessary true story that will surely enlighten many viewers. Joseph Bologne was a champion fencer, virtuoso violinist, and accomplished composer and conductor. (When we first see him, he jumps on stage to challenge Mozart to a violin-off, which surely didn’t happen in real life but is hugely entertaining.)
Bologne’s talent and charisma helped him ascend to the loftiest echelons of the royal court. But his background as the son of a plantation owner and a slave meant that he could never truly belong. Over the past 200-plus years, Bologne’s life story and impressive body of work have been buried and lost to time; “Chevalier” remedies that.
Harrison has a consistently thrilling presence as the film’s cocky but conflicted central figure, and the production values are lushly appealing. But the movie about this inspiring individual doesn’t achieve his heights of daring or innovation. Director Stephen Williams, a longtime television veteran, and screenwriter Stefani Robinson (“Atlanta,” “What We Do in the Shadows”) have crafted a solid and handsome portrait that’s also frustratingly conventional in its structure and tone.