The jury hereby finds The Chaperone guilty of bait-and-switch. “Inspired by true events” of the exploits of the world famous actress Louise Brooks, the film mostly focuses on the fictional The Chaperone. Never mind the fact that Goodreads lets us know that “Alice Mills, a stocky, bespectacled housewife of thirty-six who, having fallen idiotically in love with the beautiful Ted Shawn [owner of the dance studio] at first sight, decided to study dance with him.” The Chaperone that Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey, Belgravia, The English Game) gives us is nothing like Alice Mills.
Why anyone would choose The Chaperone over the flapper sex symbol? Proclaimed better than Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, emulated by Liza Minelli for Cabaret, in the inner circle of William Randolph Hearst, and intimate with William S. Paley (founder of CBS), Louise Brooks certainly must be the focal point of the film. Alas, such is not the case. As a period piece with fine acting, dialogue and costumes, The Chaperone on Masterpiece available on Amazon Prime is a nice movie, but could have been something wild. I give The Chaperone 3.5 Gavels and it receives a 47% Rotten Tomatoes rating with a 6.5/10 IMDb score.
In 1922, Louise Brooks of Wichita, Kansas, receives an offer to study at the prestigious Denishawn School of Dance. However, she needs a chaperone. Norma Carlisle has several reasons to volunteer, leaving behind her husband and two grown sons. Charged with protecting the innocence of the 15 year old Brooks, Norma soon finds that Louise has no intention to follow the norms of society. She intends to be a star. While Louise looks to the future in New York City, Norma searches her past.
Elizabeth McGovern (The Commuter) continues to be a favorite of Julian Fellowes. Norma Carlisle is a nice character, just not as compelling as Louise Brooks. For sheer flirtatiousness, it would be hard to top Haley Lu Richardson (Five Feet Apart). From my perspective, it was nice to see a dancer who looked liked she had danced before. Blythe Danner has a very small role as Norma’s mother. She is on and off the screen far too quickly.
The attitude of Louise Brooks is best described by “I get free ice cream. They get the pleasure of my company.”
On the other hand, the life of Norma Carlisle may be best summed up by “you get used to the uncomfortable corset.”
Still, the opposites both give the other something they need, the encouragement to make a change.
“The Chaperone is like telling the Tiger Woods story by choosing to focus on his first caddy. Sure, it’s a way in, but unless that caddy has a really good story, what are we doing here?” Detroit News
“The focus isn’t on the bratty flapper but McGovern’s character’s hesitant, poignant attempt to find out what she wants to be when she grows up, in a time and place where nobody wants her to be much of anything at all.” AARP Movies for Grownups
Given the amount of material available on the life of Louise Brooks, Fellowes and Masterpiece missed the boat by not doing a six-part series on her. She fascinates.