A look at The Chaperone (PG)
Viewers who saw Elizabeth McGovern in the long-running TV soapie Downton Abbey will never have forgotten her turn as Lady Cora, the Countess of Grantham. Now she’s back as wealthy wife Norma from Wichita, Kansas who’s tasked with chaperoning a precocious teenager in New York.
It’s 1922, prohibition is still in force in the USA and Louise Brooks (Haley Lu Richardson) is regarded as a potential dance star.
I didn’t know until the end credits that Brooks had been a reasonably big star in Hollywood’s black and white silent movie era.
But she had been. However, in the Julian Fellowes-scripted movie here she’s still only 15 and is pursuing fame as a dancer.
Back to the plot. Off to the Big Apple from the Mid-West the Wichita pair go with those huge, bulky travel trunks which had to be wrangled by unhappy and overworked train station porters.
Louise is enrolled in a high-end dance school where Ruth (Miranda Otto) and Raymond (Matt McGrath) are in charge.
Ruth is more a prim and proper instructress but sexy Raymond mingles, shirt off, with his young female charges as he twirls and cavorts about with his pupils. While all this dance training is progressing Norma is off on a quest of her own.
She reminds Louise not to get embroiled in casual sexual encounters – “men don’t like candy that’s been unwrapped” – and takes her first steps to trace her own biological parents.
Norma is trying to track down those parents so visits the New York city convent where she was dumped – and subsequently brought up.
The matron can’t – and won’t – assist in Norma’s search, but fortunately for her she meets the convent handyman: German-born Joseph (Geza Rohrig). They become romantically entwined and one evening in his upstairs convent room Joseph hands Norma the keys to the building’s file room. She tip-toes to the door, unlocks it and flicks through the old paperwork and eventually discovers the name, and address, of her birth mother.
The childhood mystery seems to have been solved especially when the person to whom she’s addressed a letter responds. But at the meeting in a park the woman, who was single and unmarried when Norma was born, doesn’t want to compromise her current happy and prosperous marriage so Norma is left up in the air.
Considering back home her husband (Campbell Scott) is also compromised by a secret love affair (of a different sort) Norma has only Joseph left. She does finally unravel herself from the restrictions of her corsets, a metaphysical unwrapping, but perhaps she should have listened more intently to her oldest son.
He told her when his mother and Louise were first on their way to New York: “This is 1922. Things have changed. Haven’t you heard? Women can vote now.”
It had plenty of potential this movie. Maybe we should have seen more of Louise’s after-hours socialising apart from one, brief encounter she had with two young men in a speak-easy bar and some flirtatious behaviour in an ice-cream cafe.
But we didn’t. And we were left with a somewhat wishy-washy plot and movie.