Movin on with Nellie: The Chaperone is a peek at women’s lives

The Washington Post says of the limited release 2019 PBS movie The Chaperone starring Elizabeth McGovern, “Well meaning, but don’t expect much . . .” The Wall Street Journal lists its review as, “Traveling Companions with Baggage.” 

Linked from Rotten Tomatoes, author Alexandria Macaaron in Women’s Voices for Change writes, “Alas, while it delivers all of the above as promised, this first foray into motion pictures by PBS and Masterpiece Theatre feels more like a made for television movie. It’s a bit too hushed and a bit too tame for the big screen. It’s certainly enjoyable — and quite beautiful to watch — but this particular historical drama could use a bit more . . . well . . . drama.”

So, as I’m examining the kernels of reviews listed when I google the movie, I’m disappointed that so many reviewers have negative views of this film.

What I liked about the movie that I watched for free on the PBS app for smart tv is that it is set charmingly in the early 20th century when the jazz age was full throttle and silent films were running and talkies hadn’t caught on. The characters in this 2012 novel (The Chaperone by Laura Moriarity) and 2019 movie The Chaperone are based on real life people.

However, the film shows us that views from an older generation to a newer generation often have varying opinions on what is socially acceptable and what isn’t, what is talked about and what isn’t, and all seem to have the “me too” movement no matter the century.

Teenaged Louise dreams of a modern dance and Hollywood career while middle aged Norma dreams of familial and romantic love.  Norma grows as an encourager in her role as chaperone, as Louise teaches Norma about having confidence.  Free-spirited Louise has used her feminine wiles and Norma is concerned for her charge’s “purity.”

As such, we learn that Louise’ confidence is an over correction for her harsh childhood of abuse and familial tyranny. Likewise, orphaned as a toddler, Norma learns to use a kindergarten-style feminine wiles to gain access to a convent’s adoption rec--ords about her birth family.  She too has learned some harsh details about her child bride history in a male world and seems to over correct as well in a bid to find her original family.  She enlists a handyman from the convent to help her. 

The Chaperone is a thoughtful look at two lives which come together with current day issues, albeit set in an earlier time of 1920’s-30’s New York and small town in Kansas.  The humanity of what it means to be a mother and a teen seeking her career in a mostly male dominated society brushes with our current issues around the MeToo movement.  Without overtelling sexual assault events, the reader/viewer’s mind is opened to the PG gentle genteel story of women’s lives.

—Nelda Curtiss is a former substance-prevention media specialist, journalist, and retired college professor who enjoys writing and fine arts. Contact her at [email protected]