The Story Behind the Film: The Incredible Chevalier de Saint-Georges

The Story Behind the Film: The Incredible Chevalier de Saint-Georges
If the life of any French personality deserves to be made into a biopic, it surely must be that of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. In an age of widespread slavery, Saint-Georges, who was mixed-race, was one of the most celebrated men in France, displaying a phenomenal range of talents. Not only was he among the most important musicians in Paris during the pre-Revolutionary period, he was also a superb all-round athlete and man of arms. He lived in dangerous times and overcame the racial prejudices of his era. Born in the colony of Guadeloupe, he made a name for himself in Paris and the court of Versailles, as one of the most important characters in both musical and military fields. Fortunately, Saint-Georges’ life and career are showcased in the biographical film Chevalier, theatrically released in the spring of 2023 by Searchlight Pictures. The movie recounts the extraordinary life of Saint-Georges, played by Kelvin Harrison Jr. Speculation and artistic license abound, but the film has received positive reviews. Hopefully this is the beginning of a revival in interest in Saint-Georges, whose life story has largely been lost to time. Viewers can also see his character portrayed in the mini-series Marie Antoinette currently airing on PBS in America. His mother was a slave, but Joseph Bologne was born a free man on Christmas Day, 1745. Joseph’s father was the minor French nobleman and Guadeloupe plantation owner Georges Bologne de Saint-Georges. His mother Nanon was reputed to be the most beautiful young woman in the West Indies, and Georges Bologne acknowledged his mistress and illegitimate child, supporting them throughout his life. Fearing for the future of his mixed-race son in the colonies, Georges bought the best possible education for Joseph and sent his precociously gifted seven-year-old to Paris. In 1753, little Joseph was enrolled in a Jesuit boarding school in Angoulême, but within two years he was reunited with his parents who had taken an apartment at 49, rue Saint-André des Arts in Paris. Nanon had been freed by the act of enfranchisement by Bologne de Saint-Georges. Portrait of Chevalier de Saint-Georges At 13, Joseph was enrolled in Boëssière’s fencing academy in the Rue Saint Honoré. Fencing was like a calling card into French society. Joseph’s progress was rapid – by 15, he was beating the best swordsmen in France. Henry Angelo, the 18th-century British swordsman, said, “Saint-Georges combined in his person his mother’s grace and good looks, and his father’s vigor and assurance”.

Lead photo credit : Still from the film release by Searchlight Pictures shows Kelvin Harrison Jr as the Chevalier

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A freelance writer and amateur historian, Hazel knew she wanted to focus on the lives of French artists and femme fatales after an epiphany at the Musée d'Orsay. A life-long learner, she is a recent graduate of Art History from the University of Toronto. Now she is searching for a real-life art history mystery to solve.