#SheReviews – The Chaperone

April 10, 2019

I had read Laura Moriarty’s divine book- The Chaperone several years ago. I really loved it. So you can imagine my excitement when I was invited to review the film version and heard the script was written by Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes. I had so enjoyed the twists and turns in the novel , based on true events and the life of film star, Louise Brooks. Set in the tumultuous times of the 1920’s it tells the story of the life of Kansas woman – Norma Carlisle ( Cora in the novel ) whose life is changed forever after chaperoning a beautiful and talented young dancer -Louise Brooks to New York for the Summer.Whilst Louise begins to fulfil her destiny of dance and movie stardom , Norma searches for answers about her turbulent past. She Society were enthralled with this beautiful piece of work and the relationships portrayed.

Thanks to Studiocanal, Think Tank Communications and Palace James Street for a wonderful screening. Nanny Babe and I both attended with friends and we all thought it was the loveliest movie we’d seen for ages. For me , the film lived up to the magic I’d felt when reading the beautiful book. It was also great to see the reactions of  friends who hadn’t read the book and gauge their reactions to pivotal moments in the story. We were all keen to go home to learn more about Louise Brooks and her enthralling life.

About Louise Brooks

This movie is based on true events. In 1955 French Film archivist and cinephile , Henri Langlois declared , “ There is no Garbo! There is no Dietrich! There is only Louise Brooks! “

Louise Brooks was a noted flapper icon and sex symbol who was known for her famous bob hairstyle. She is best known for her three feature films made in Europe – Pandora’s Box,  Diary of a Lost Girl and Miss Europe. Although she starred in seventeen silent films and eight sound films before retiring in 1938. Her second career was as a film reviewer and writer. She gained notoriety again in 1982 after publishing some of her writing in the book- Lulu in Hollywood. This came just three years before her death. Louise always kept everyone guessing with her flamboyant sexuality. It’s been alleged that she had an affair with Charlie Chaplin and a rumoured dalliance with Greta Garbo.

The Film

This cinematically beautiful film tells the story of the stunningly beautiful Louise, from her departure by train from Wichita, Kansas to the bright lights of Broadway, Hollywood and beyond. Wise beyond her years Louise can charm the birds from the trees and takes her seemingly staid chaperone on a merry dance as she seeks all the thrills and excitement that the Big Apple of the Prohibition era has to offer.

Unbeknownst to Louise whilst she is studying expressive dance at the Denishawn dance school, Norma is visiting the New York Home for Friendless Girls trying to unravel her past. Along the way she discovers family, love and freedom. Norma’s life story would rival any movie that Louise ever starred in , with enough surprises to keep the audience guessing.

Add in the exquisite twenties fashion which had us all impressed and the scenes from Prohibitionist New York and you can see why this movie was a hit with us all. I also loved the shots at the end of the film which showed the real Louise Brooks in some of her movies. I wanted to see more. What an exquisite beauty!

The Stars

The scriptwriter was not the only Downton Abbey connection.The film was directed by Downton Abbey director -Michael Engler. The pivotal role of Norma Carlisle was played by the ethereal and lovely – Elizabeth McGovern. You’ll remember Elizabeth from her role as Lady Grantham in the hit series. You will want to be Elizabeth’s friend and help her with her dilemmas, as does Gezra Rohrig, the handyman from the orphanage.

The screen lights up when the beautiful Haley Lu Richardson ( Five Feet Apart) enters the room. Her first risqué dance scene raises eyebrows among the good folk of Witchita and I could not imagine a more perfect person to play Louise. Her demeanour and sense of fun are infectious, although she is equally good in the dramatic scenes and is still believable as the 35 year old Louise wearied by life and wondering what to do next.

Acting royalty, Blythe Danner makes an appearance as does Australia’s own beauty – Miranda Otto, who relishes her flamboyant role as the owner of the dance school. She keeps an eagle eye on her husband around the effervescent Louise.

This film is deeply rooted in the Jazz Age and contrasts the time’s social mores with the demure, corseted Norma a perfect foil to the new age and free spirited Louise, who is the epitome of the iconic flapper girl. It is a coming – of – age story, but for both main characters, with Norma also shedding the chimera of respectability that shrouds her life, as a quiet and unassuming wife and mother. This story reveals the 20th century ideas of freedom and self – fulfilment. Norma’s personal transformation is a highlight, she even sheds that restrictive corset. The film’s climax back in Wichita may surprise.

This is not your action packed blockbuster but a lovely film showing a period of change. It tackles women’s issues, post war immigration, homosexuality, sexuality, adoption laws and many themes from the time with a sensitivity and respect for the norms of the era. It reminds us how far we’ve come and showcases a time of illicit thrills and daring glamour  where prohibition reigns and speakeasies thrive behind closed doors. It is a story of women, discovering who they are and who they want to be. The costumes and shoes alone were a highlight for our group! If you love a good period drama with engaging female characters and a standout story this just might be for you. This intelligent and charming movie will be in theatres on April 25.

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