A roundabout take on the story of famed silent film actress Louise Brooks, “The Chaperone” approaches her life via a drama involving a woman who takes the responsibility in 1922 of accompanying young Louise to New York. The film is more attuned to the experiences of the chaperone, as the title implies.
The setting starts out in Wichita, Kansas. Norma, played by Elizabeth McGovern, is a prim and proper woman who longs for some adventure. Louise, 15 at the time, shows promising talent and gets the opportunity to study dance in New York. Norma becomes her chaperone. She doesn’t realize what a handful Louise will quickly become.
Louise, portrayed with much teenage spirit by Haley Lu Richardson, is hell-bent on having fun and becoming older than her years. She likes to flirt, live it up and throw off restraints. It’s the era for hell-raising, and Norma finds Louise more than she can handle.
Of course, what develops in the screenplay by Julian Fellowes, based on a book by Laura Moriarty, is what happens to Norma in her new surroundings far from Kansas. Director Michael Engler follows the trail with restraint, and we are meant to become wrapped in Norma’s life even while following the fortunes of Louise.
As the years pass, Norma still feels a responsibility to her charge. Eventually, when Louise has descended into malaise, Norma visits and tries to steer her into bouncing back. The film by that time also needs to bounce back from its failure to ignite deep emotional interest in either of its main characters, although the sincere performance that McGovern gives merits respect. A Masterpiece Films release. Reviewed March 29, 2019.