Film & Television

As ‘The Chaperone,’ Elizabeth McGovern
Comes of Age — in Middle Age

The excellent McGovern seems to have real affection for her character. She served as an executive producer and the movie was a pet project for her. In a recent interview with WBUR, Boston’s NPR affiliate, McGovern explained her attraction to the material. “I loved the idea that it was a story about a woman who is changing alongside a changing country, making discoveries about herself in late middle age, which is not a story that is told very much at the time . . . I thought it was a really charming, entertaining conceit that she is empowered into this life’s revelation by her interaction with the young girl who’s meant to be her charge who then becomes the poster child, icon, symbol of this changing time, which was 1920s America. Louise Brooks became emblematic of this, the liberation of women, in the form of the flapper, which represented the looser clothes and looser morality. . . . And in the course of this journey she takes with Louise Brooks, she discovers herself and learns how to own her own sexual life.”

The experienced actress is well matched by the luminous young Haley Lu Richardson, who is also currently starring in the ‘teen facing serious illness’ movie Five Feet Apart. Their scenes together are the film’s most entertaining, and Richardson imbues her performance (and the character of Louise) with a fearless joie de vivre that’s delightful, no matter how many scrapes it leads her into.

The supporting cast is also solid. Hollywood royal Campbell Scott (the son of Colleen Dewhurst and George C. Scott) is the stern and flawed husband in Norma’s loveless marriage. In comparison, Géza Rohrig (Son of Saul) as her lover Joseph is tender and warm. Blythe Danner, still lovely and distinguished at age 76, is the mysterious woman from Massachusetts. Australian Miranda Otto is sublime as St. Denis, and former New York City Ballet principal Robert Fairchild is the smitten (with Louise) and handsome Ted Shawn.

Overall, The Chaperone is as handsome as one could wish. The gorgeous costumes are by Candice Donnelly, art direction by Eric Lewis Beauzay, and cinematography by Nick Remy Matthews. Although the various New York locales are limited in number, the film does project a city in between its gilded age and the modern world, emphasizing the different eras and worldviews to which Norma and Louise belong. The movie is very pretty and wraps itself up in a nice, tidy bow. But, this may be one of the few movies that I would suggest will play better on a small screen. Seek it out when it does.

Of course, the Downton Abbey movie is less than six months away, arriving in theatres this coming September. With the same creative team of Fellowes and Engler at its helm, we can expect romance, witty dialogue, and rich period details.

And, hopefully, enough Downton drama to fill that big screen.


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