Coming to theaters from director Michael Engler, writer Julian Fellowes and based on the book by Laura Moriarty and PBS Films with “The Chaperone.”
Norma Carlisle (Elizabeth McGovern) is a married woman and mother of grown twin sons living in 1920’s Kansas. Her life has been turned upside down and she is feeling the need to do something different. When she hears that the young 16-year-old Louise Brooke (Haley Lu Richardson) needs a chaperone while she attends dance school in New York, Norma sees an opportunity.
Husband Alan (Campbell Scott) doesn’t seem thrilled to see his wife go but she makes it clear it is something she needs to do. Norma and Louise board the train for the trip and it takes only a moment before the young girl tries her hand at breaking away. Tired of the small town life, she is going to push every envelope possible.
Arriving in New York, both women are excited and Louise prepares to meet dance teachers Ruth St. Dennis (Miranda Otto) and Raymond (Matt McGrath) at the Denishaw School. While Louise is dancing during the day, Norma decides that she is going to visit the convent where she was an orphan. Hoping to discover anything about her parents, she is met by a nun who isn’t exactly helpful.
Both Louise and Norma are trying to find their way and with where they come from to where they are now. Louise is pushing the boundaries of propriety and the mindset that she’ll never return home. Norma is pushing her own boundaries of propriety to discover that life is full of lies, deceptions and realities that are continually tested.
Who will break away and who will break the rules?
McGovern as Norma is a woman who started off life as an orphan, raised on a farm and married off at a young age — all three of those things done to survive. Once married to Mr. Carlisle, she once again played the role as she had been told. It takes one moment and opening a door to discover that her life has been played out to please others and not herself. I loved watching McGovern take step after step to find Norma’s own truth and happiness.
Richardson as Louise is a rebellious young woman who doesn’t like playing by the rules. Instead she wants to break away from a family that doesn’t seem to care what she does, as long as she does it without rumors starting. Instantly in New York Richardson lets her character loose wanting McGovern’s Norma to join in. I think the final scene between Richardson and McGovern just shook my heart — and I believe it will shake yours too!
Scott as Mr. Carlisle is everything a man of that era would be. He is an impeccably dressed lawyer who keeps home and hearth comfortable while keeping his reputation sterling. He also does as is expected of him by marrying and having children. Scott keeps everything level headed and even when McGovern’s Norma tries to break away, he keeps it calm so no one asks questions or wonders what is going on in their own home.
Otto as Ruth St. Dennis keeps an eye on Louise, especially since she seems to have captured the attention of her partner Raymond played by McGrath. Both of these characters are serious about their dance school and even when Louise becomes a little reckless, it is Norma who steers her back.
Other cast include Victoria Hill as Myra Brooks, Robert Fairchild as Ted Shawn, Tyler Weaks as Howard Carlisle, Kate Grimes as Ms. Burton, Andrew Burnap as Floyd, Bill Hoag as Jack, Ellen Toland as Greta, George Hampe as Earl Carlisle, Sean Hudock as Norman Ross and Blythe Danner as Mary O’Dell.
“The Chaperone” is a look inside the life of women in the 1920s and what was considered respectable, acceptable and expected. Marrying and having children seemed to be the only choices that Norma had but it is Louise who wants to break away. Dancing her way to New York, Norma mentally dances along to get some answers of her own.
Even though both women see a freedom in the big city, they first must come to terms with the lies and deceptions of the past. Each has choices to make and, for me, some of those choices are groundbreaking. I will let you decide who breaks the mold and who becomes trapped by it.
I am a period piece person so “The Chaperone” is in my wheelhouse of films. In this case not only is the casting brilliantly done but the set design and costuming just take me away deeper into the film itself. This is truly and enjoyable film!
Moriarty wrote “The Chaperone” in 2012 but is also the author of four other books including “The Center of Everything,” “The Rest of Her Life,” “When I’m Falling” and “American Heart.”
In the end — one trip can change everything!