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The Chaperone on Masterpiece

Airs Thursday, Nov. 26 at 8 p.m.

The chaperone movie image

The star, writer, and director of Downton Abbey the series and film reunite in The Chaperone, based on Laura Moriarty’s best-selling novel and featuring actress Elizabeth McGovern, screenwriter Julian Fellowes, and director Michael Engler. Portraying a Jazz-age quest for personal fulfillment by two markedly different women, the 90-minute program premieres on MASTERPIECE, Sunday, November 24, 2019 at 9pm ET on PBS after a successful theatrical run. The Chaperone is the inaugural production of MASTERPIECE FILMS, a movie-making spinoff of the multi-award-winning drama series, which is nearing its 50th anniversary.


McGovern (Downton Abbey, Ordinary People) stars as Norma Carlisle, the diffident chaperone to fellow Kansan, Louise Brooks, destined to become a 1920s sex symbol, played by co-star Haley Lu Richardson (Split). The cast also includes Victoria Hill (First Reformed), Géza Röhrig (Son of Saul), Campbell Scott (House of Cards), Blythe Danner (Will & Grace), Miranda Otto (Homeland, The Lord of the Rings), and New York City Ballet principal dancer Robert Fairchild.

Telling the fictionalized backstory of real-life silent-screen star Louise Brooks, The Chaperone begins in 1922, when Brooks is a teenage modern-dance sensation in her hometown, Wichita, Kansas. Winning a place at the renowned Denishawn Dance Company in New York City, run by Ruth St. Denis (Otto) and Ted Shawn (Fairchild), Louise requires a chaperone for her journey from staid Middle America to the Gatsby-like glory of the big city.

Enter a family friend, Norma, who is the middle-aged mother of twin grown-up sons and the wife of an emotionally distant local attorney (Scott). She has her own reasons to sign on as Louise’s minder. In many ways, she is less worldly wise than her fifteen-year-old ward. Nonetheless, she does her best to enforce Presbyterian values on Louise—a job that grows increasingly difficult as their train makes its way east.

Once in New York, Louise pursues dance by day and forbidden pleasures by night (whenever she can sneak away from Norma), while the chaperone embarks on a personal mission: discovering exactly who she is. Years before, Norma was raised by nuns in a New York orphanage, then placed on a notorious “orphan train,” where she eventually landed with a farm couple in Kansas. Tracking down the orphanage, Norma asks for the records of her adoption but is refused by the mother superior. She then enlists the friendly caretaker, a German immigrant named Joseph (Röhrig), to help her penetrate the mystery of her identity.

The Chaperone is a story of self-discovery during a tumultuous period in American history. Louise will go on to become an icon of the Roaring ’Twenties and a rebellious model for her generation, pursuing her glittering career from New York to Hollywood to Berlin. But Norma, too, will embrace rebellion—and in Wichita, Kansas, no less!