Louise Brooks was a silent screen phenomenon. A woman whose style all others copied. But before she was a star, she was just a teenager in Wichita, Kansas. The Chaperone is the story of her trip to New York at the age of 15 to attend a prestigious dance school and launch her career. And though she’s the one who became a star, it’s her chaperone who’s at the center of this Masterpiece Theater drama. A local woman named Norma Carlisle (Elizabeth McGovern, Downton Abbey) overhears Louise’s mother at a party lamenting that her daughter is in need of a chaperone and volunteers her services. She has an ulterior motive, of course. She’s escaping a fractured marriage and also searching for her birth mom who abandoned her decades earlier in a New York orphanage. Written and directed by Downton Abbey alums Michael Engler and Julian Fellowes, this period drama is a fascinating tale of liberation and self-discovery.

Louise Brooks (Haley Lu Richardson, Columbus) had a reputation for being her own woman, which got her in trouble a lot throughout her life. And in this film it is on full display. Norma initially tries to reign her in, but ultimately learns from her about taking charge of her own life. And while trying to sneak into the orphanage to find the documents that will tell her the name of her mother, she meets a man (Géza Röhrig, Son of Saul) who works there and begins a relationship that would last the rest of their lives.

The Chaperone is definitely for the Downton Abbey crowd. The clothes, the society, the style are all integral parts of the story. Both actresses are quite good, especially Haley Lu Richardson who plays Brooks as both the free spirit and the insecure girl. Blythe Danner gives a memorable turn in a key scene, too. It’s definitely a film for the grown-ups and probably mostly for women, too. Go see it and then rent a few Louise Brooks flicks to see what all the fuss was about.

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