“The Chaperone” reaches PBS Sunday, delivering a tad of “Downton Abbey” prestige. It arrives much later than expected.
Back in 2013, plans were announced for the movie. Based on a novel, it would have a script by “Downton” creator Julian Fellowes; Elizabeth McGovern (Cora in “Downton”) would star, with her husband Simon Curtis (“Cranford”) directing.
And then – like so many indie projects – it lingered.
It was finally filmed in 2017, with Michael Engler directing, before he went on to make the “Downton” movie. It debuted at the Los Angeles Film Festival io 2018 and reached theaters this spring, to moderate reviews and modest ($1.5 million) box office. Now it reaches TV (9 p.m. Sunday on “Masterpiece”) … where it belongs.
This is a flawed film, not the sort we’d spend money on, but an interesting one.
At the core is a true story: In 1922, 16-year-old Louise Brooks (played by Haley Lu Richardson, shown here, the “Five Feet Apart” star) left Wichita to study with a modern-dance company.
She would go on to be a trend-setting movie star and (much later) a well-regarded writer about Hollywood. But that would be later; this story focuses on her chaperone.
That’s McGovern’s role, as a lawyer’s wife burdened by secrets at home and in her birthplace. This is what Fellowes does best, sympathizing with people battered by society’s rules. We see that here with a gay man … and a German native facing post-war hatred … and with most women.
McGovern, Blythe Danner and others play people who share the demands of a rigid society. They play the roles well; we like these women … but we don’t find them very interesting.
There’s a genteel blandness that may be accurate, but doesn’t provide strong drama. We welcome the few moments when Louise kicks things around. Better times were on the way.