Our verdict: three stars

When Alan Rickman made his directorial debut with the acclaimed drama The Winter Guest, it was thought it would not be long till he walked that particular career path again.

That was almost two decades ago. As he said tonight when introducing his second film as director, A Little Chaos, a little thing called Harry Potter intervened.

The packed audience tonight varied between those who in the main know Rickman in his Professor Severus Snape mode, and those who have followed his career from Truly, Madly, Deeply onwards.

A mixed audience, then, which suited a drama which tried to make a virtue out of variety, often successfully, sometimes not.

It is Paris, 1682, and King Louis XIV (Rickman) wants to make Versailles a new Eden on Earth. Helping him realise that vision are his chief garden designer (Matthias Schoenaerts) and a jobbing landscaper played by Kate Winslet.

Madame Sabine de Barra (Winslet), being a woman in a male-dominated world, must fight her corner, within court and without.

A Little Chaos is at its best when being playful, and less convincing when Rickman and his cast try to underpin the gaiety with more serious plot strands. When this happens, the already stiff tone hardens like concrete.

But it is never long before the quality and warmth of the performances - from Schoenaerts and Winslet especially - break the ice again.

As for Rickman as director, here's hoping he does not leave it too long until he lets his natural creativity behind the camera bloom again.