The Chaperone is a new film from PBS Masterpiece Films, director Michael Engler, and writer Julian Fellowes, some of the creative forces behind hit show Downton Abbey. The Chaperone follows a woman from Kansas whose life is changed when she accompanies young dancer and star-on-the-rise Louise Brooks on a trip to New York City.
This movie is the same bland melodrama that you will have come to expect from PBS Masterpiece. This is just another attempt to recapture the magic of Downton Abbey with the hopes that audiences will spend their hard-earned money on it. Unfortunately, fans will probably be better off waiting for the actual Downton Abbey movie coming out this September than seeing this cheap knockoff.
One of the biggest issues with this film is that the main story is rendered insignificant by the many subplots. Louise Brooks’s storyline doesn’t have much of an impact on the movie and feels thoroughly underdeveloped. Instead, it is just a means to get her chaperone, Norma, into New York City so that the actual conflict can begin. After a soul-searching storyline and a semi-homophobic subplot, the film ends in a way that is unsatisfying.
The movie does a poor job of connecting the audience with the characters. Brooks is an icon of the silent film era, and yet she is relegated to being a plot device in the story of a less interesting and more generic character. Yes, the target audience may relate more to the older protagonist, but they will also likely be fans of Brooks’ work and want to hear more of her story.
The only emotion in the movie comes through Norma’s storyline, and even this feels extremely contrived. People who are used to this style of melodrama-heavy filmmaking may be more keen to emote in the ways intended by the film, but for the most part, the movie comes across as insincere and artificial. Even the protagonist’s quest to find her mother doesn’t strike the intended chord.
The actors can’t be faulted for the film’s lack of quality, as they do seem like they are legitimately trying to make the movie work. The cast is likely what is going to bring the film a majority of its eyes. Downton Abbey alum Elizabeth McGovern is likable as the lead, but doesn’t really stand out. Haley Lu Richardson is an extremely talented actress, but her skills seem put to waste in her role as Brooks. Small supporting turns from Géza Röhrig and Blythe Danner are strong, if only they has more screen time in the movie.
On a technical level, the film was mostly solid. It definitely looks better than your average PBS production, so perhaps this is why they thought that they could milk some box office dollars out of this before its inevitably long public broadcast life. That being said, even though the execution is thoroughly competent, it is just as safe and traditional as the script.
Overall, The Chaperone is a movie with a very specific target audience. If you fall outside that target audience, you will likely find it to be an aggressively bland and boring melodrama.
The Chaperone is now playing in select theaters.