THE CHAPERONE tells the story of two women of different generations, each at the threshold of a major life change. Coming from Wichita, Kansas in 1922, both are trapped in lives too small for their dreams. I was drawn to the script’s depiction of the world as a place where women and their aspirations were mostly circumscribed by the men in their lives, and by men in general. Norma Carlisle is trapped in a sexless marriage, but believes she has no other options. Louise Brooks is a budding artist who refuses to be trapped raising a family like her frustrated mother.
The film shows the ways in which women have always had to rely on one another, becoming the mothers and sisters each other need to fulfill their dreams in a world controlled by men. It is the story of two women who couldn’t be more different from each other, pushing and supporting one another toward self-actualization. It covers this footnote moment to a very, very famous person’s life. Because of who she was and what she stood for—she was a very curious, sexual being and a very open one at the time when sexuality was changing rapidly—naturally, around her, things are shaken to the surface by her presence.
What I love about Julian Fellowes’s writing is that he understands that whatever social position, class, or economic stature a person is born into, there are inherent limitations and opportunities to their choices. It’s how they deal with these limitations—the ways in which they accept them, push against them, or defy them—that determine character. The result is the idea that people from vastly different circumstances and situations can find a commonality that allows them to experience their shared humanity.
I believe the central relationship in this story is an important one to portray right now in the midst of the current dialogue within our culture between women, and women and men, about the necessity of women to define and determine their own self-expression, sexuality, and identity.