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Byron Shire
August 15, 2022

Cinema Reviews: The Chaperone

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At one point, Norma, the chaperone (Elizabeth McGovern), says to Louise, the young lady who is in her care (Haley Lu Richardson), ‘I can’t believe you told me that last night’. I had no idea what Louise had told her, because this is one of those movies in which it’s all too easy for your mind to wander. But though you might drift off, it’s just as easy to channel back into what is happening, for the story is uncomplicated and warmhearted, with sympathetic characters. The famous silent-screen actress Louise Brooks grew up in Wichita, Kansas, but all she ever wanted was to study dance in New York. When offered a place at an academy in the Big Apple, her mother hired Norma, whose marriage was floundering after she had learnt of her husband’s long-running peccadillo, to look after her teenage daughter. The ambitious, confident Louise was hurtling towards a glittering future, whereas the Norma was retracing her past, in which she was raised by nuns in a home for ‘friendless girls’. The rapport between the two actresses is the secret to the film’s success – the starlet’s prettiness and cheekiness contrasting perfectly with the older woman’s prim provinciality. Physically, Richardson does not quite convince as a dancer, and at times McGovern’s amazed expression at every performance she sees comes across as extremely twee, but I liked them both and quickly grew fond of their company. Romance arrives in the form of Joseph (Géza Röhrig), the mumbling WWI refugee whose little girl is being raised by the same nuns who were responsible for Norma’s upbringing. With a screenplay by Julian Fellowes Downton Abbey, Gosford Park, among many others), you know that you are going to be gently guided towards emotional crises rather than prodded with a pick, and it is a softly-softly approach that proves to be ideal for his subject matter. It’s an undemanding but charming movie, with an upbeat postscript to make you happy for the way Louise Brooks’s career panned out.

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