Throughout the 1920s, jazz music and dance ran rampant through the United States; it was the Jazz Age—an era of prohibition. But bootlegged liquor in an underground speakeasy wasn’t the only thing forbidden in the roaring decade of flapper girls and gold tassels. The intermingling of black and white folks was strictly prohibited, women were shunned if their bodies weren’t bound in corsets, and it was improper for young girls from Wichita, Kansas to stray too far from home without company.
But doesn’t mean the great film star from the 20s, Louise Brooks (Haley Lu Richardson) didn’t try. Queue the chaperone, Norma Carlisle (Elizabeth McGovern).
Based on the book by Laura Moriarty, at the tender age of 15, Louise is selected to study at the Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts. But chasing her dream of moving to New York and becoming the world’s greatest dancer has conditions. Orphaned farm girl and wife to a noble lawyer, Mrs Carlisle, raises her hand to accompany the vivacious teen as she pursues fame, fortune and her ultimate goal––seeking freedom from the chokehold of Wichita.
“This movie wasn’t particularly action packed, or conflict driven, but it kept me sitting upright and clinging onto the story line,” said my friend, as the credits rolled and a montage of Brooks on the silver screen played out.
And she was right. The story of The Chaperone had us both enthralled, but it was more about the unspoken conversations that danced on the precipice of conflict. A dimpled smile often played at the corner of Louise’s lips, alluding to the mischief and rebellion of the Jazz era. And the wisdom born from Mrs Carlisle’s hidden realities poured from her kind eyes.
Director Michael Engler and screen-play writer Julian Fellowes—creator of Downtown Abbey—captured the pairs’ chemistry effortlessly, it was as if the actors themselves had lived the narratives of their characters.
There are many ways one can read their story—a tale of female friendship, forced together by circumstance; a commentary of a time in history and a woman’s place in society; or the ugly side of child stardom. But ultimately the viewer is left questioning whose coming of age story this really is––the wondrous baby-faced Louise, or Norma, the chaperone. One thing is certain, they’re not in Kansas anymore.
The Chaperone is in cinemas now!