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“The Chaperone” An Alluring Period Piece





Review by John Delia

An alluring period piece, the biography/drama The Chaperone makes for good viewing for its target audience females 35 plus. It’s just a snippet on the seductive actress Louise Brooks with the real story going to her companion Norma Carlisle. The film has some of the best cinematography I’ve seen in a drama in recent past and combined with perfect retro costume, sets, locations and make-up the film’s a winner.

Opening in the year 1922 Wichita, Kansas we see Norma Carlisle (Elizabeth McGovern) accompanied by her husband Alan (Campbell Scott) at a social event hosted by noted piano player Myra Books (Victoria Hill). She’s showcasing her daughter Louise Brooks (Haley Lu Richardson) modern dancing skills to the local hobnobs who are gushing over the beautiful young lady. With this performance she announces that Louise will be attending Denishawn School of dance in New York City.

Elizabeth McGovern in The Chaperone Photo by Karin Catt Courtesy of PBS Distribution

Overhearing that Myra cannot find a chaperone for her daughter, Norma volunteers to accompany the girl to the big city for the length of her school studies. It’s a way for her to get away from the boring small city to a more glamorous life even if it will only be a few months. When the two get there, Louise assimilates into the dance troop while Norma checks out the orphanage where she was brought up as a child.

Thus begins a true account of a period in the life of two romantics, one a dancer and future movie star, the other trying to find her way out of a loveless life in Wichita. Director Michael Engler who brought “Sex and the City” to the small screen from 2001 to 2004 knows his way around NYC and he even nails the this jaunt with some of the best scenery, locations and sets filled with memories of the past.

Haley Lu Richardson in The Chaperone (2) Photo by Barry Wetcher Courtesy of PBS Distribution

He eases his story along so his audience will be enamored by McGovern’s performance as the caretaker of the young vivacious girl who’s a handful of trouble and wide eyed dreams. She’s the unexpected catalyst that stimulates the film with her chemistry between her and Lu Richardson. And then a surprise character Joseph Schmidt (Géza Röhrig) who pries open Norma’s dormant heart that reluctantly at first tries to avoid his welcoming offer of romance.

Elizabeth McGovern and Géza Röhrig in The Chaperone Photo by Barry Wetcher Courtesy of PBS Distribution

What makes the film work in addition to the opulent and aggressive production that truly gives one the sweet nostalgia of bygone roaring 20’s prohibition and a rising film stars, is the depiction of the characters. Haley Lu Richardson certainly sparkles with a wild and precocious showing making a statement with her acting ability and commands the screen while front and center. She’s breathes’ life into the famous or one may say infamous screen star Louise Brooks. Vampish at times and impish in her young ways, it’s fun to see some new life in a supporting/co-star role.

But, it’s McGovern’s film and she carries it as if it were a walk in the park. There’s so much to the story than what I have covered and you will leave the theater wanting even more. Norma’s past, present and future are what the meat of the story holds and you will enjoy how masterfully it’s presented on the screen with her lead. Nicely summed up prior to the roll of the credits, the movie can only be considered a blast from the past.

The Chaperone has not been rated by the MPAA, but contains sexuality, teen drinking, smoking, minor violence and brief language.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A very good period piece crowned by fine acting and direction. (4 out of 5 Stars)

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Elizabeth McGovern, Haley Lu Richardson, Géza Röhrig, Victoria Hill, Miranda Otto with Blythe Danner and Campbell Scott
Directed by: Michael Engler
Genre: Drama, Period Piece, Biography
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 1hr. 48 min.
Opening Date: April 19, 2019
Distributed by: PBS Distribution and Masterpiece Films
Released in: Standard

Now Playing at:
Fort Lauderdale: The Classic Gateway Theatre
Palm Beach County:  Movies of Delray, Movies of Lake Worth,
Ft. Myers/Naples:  Silverspot at Mercato/Naples, Prado Cinema/Bonita Springs
Tampa/St. Petersburg: Tampa Theater

THE CHAPERONE opens April 19 in Sarasota at Burns Court Cinema

Check local listings in your area of the country for showings.


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