“The Chaperone” is a creation of Academy Award-nominated actress Elizabeth McGovern and is adapted from the Laura Moriarty novel and the screen play is written by Julian Fellowes, who is best known for writing of the Edwardian drama Downton Abbey. The film recreates the early life of dancer, actress and writer Louise Brooks.
“The Chaperone” is a costume drama set in early 20’s Kansas where a young and talented 15 year-old Mary Louise Brooks needs a chaperone to accompany her to New York to join the Denishawn Dance school, a very prestigious modern dance troupe. It is by pure happenstance that Norma, played by Elizabeth McGovern, discovers this at Louise’s dance recital in Wichita on that fateful day. This sets the stage where Norma and Louise set out on this adventure to New York City with two very divergent agendas. The story is set as a recollection, or flashbacks, where Norma reflects on the milestones in both of their lives and how this moment they shared changed their futures.
Denishawn Dance school is the setting where Louise breaks from her past to change her future, while Norma, an adopted child, sets out to find her roots in a Catholic orphanage. Norma longs to explore her roots and find her birth parents to better understand who she is and where she came from. Her and Louise are friends and foes, as Norma must chaperone while Louise seeks unfettered free expression in a big, exciting and potentially dangerous city. As Norma gets closer to the truth about her parents, Louise flouts her familial moorings by seeking greater liberties and more promiscuous experiences in the soon-to-be roaring 20’s. Long hidden truths are revealed by both parties, offering surprises and disquieting realities. It’s a bit more edgy in content than Downton Abbey, but with all the aesthetics and details of a well-made costume drama still intact. The tension the film explores is uncommon these kinds period pieces, and it’s quite refreshing.
As the stories of both of their lives come to their inevitable conclusions, Louise is set to achieve her dreams, and Norma finds a way to cope with her past and learn how to live with her future. The two are now separated and go their own ways till they are reunited in the closing moments of the film, where Louise and Norma reminisce about those times together. “The Chaperone” is a meaningful and compelling drama, embracing women with very different perspectives, and finding the similarities as they each confront their own demons and find a way to thrive, despite all obstacles.