Big news – PBS MASTERPIECE is producing its first feature film! Set in the early 1920s in the Interwar Era, it’s called The Chaperone: A Kansas woman finds her life forever changed when she accompanies a young dancer on her fame-seeking journey to New York City.

Based on Laura Moriarty’s best-selling American novel of the same name, The Chaperone will reunite Downton Abbey’s writer-director Julian Fellowes with Elizabeth McGovern (Lady Grantham). Like Downton, the new period movie will take place in a fast-changing era. Michael Engler, who directed four episodes of Downton Abbey, will direct the new film.

The Chaperone will air on PBS stations nationwide after its initial theatrical run! No date has been announced yet for when it will be in cinemas, or premiere on Masterpiece. Willow and Thatch will let you know when we hear; check back or sign up for the newsletter to be sure you stay in the loop. 

 

In 2011, the UK newspaper The Guardian asked their writers which books had most impressed them during the course of the year: Julian Fellowes choose a non-fiction book about a dancer-turned-actress: Louise Brooks: A Biography, by Barry Paris.

Calling Brooks “that queen of the silent screen,” Fellowes explained

“I have seldom read so lyrical a tale of self-destruction. When she was a girl, my mother used to be mistaken for Louise Brooks and so I have always felt a sort of investment in her, but I was unprepared for this heartbreaking tale of what-might-have-been.” 

The period movie The Chaperone will take place against the backdrop of the tumultuous times of the early 1920’s. A Kansas woman is forever changed when she chaperones a beautiful and talented 15-year-old dancer named Louise Brooks to New York for the summer. One of them is eager to fulfill her destiny of dance and movie stardom; the other is on a mission to unearth the mysteries of her past.

Only a few years before becoming a famous silent-film star and an icon of her generation, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita, Kansas, to study with the prestigious Denishawn School of Dancing in New York. Much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by a thirty-six-year-old chaperone, who is neither mother nor friend. Cora Carlisle, a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip, has no idea what she’s in for. Young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous black bob with blunt bangs, is known for her arrogance and her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will transform their lives forever.

Elizabeth McGovern is to play the chaperone Cora Carlisle, who in real-life was a provincial 36-year-old housewife named Alice Mills. Actress-dancer Julia Goldani Telles will star as Louise Brooks in the period drama.

Fellowes calls the novel “captivating and beguiling and resonant in so many ways,” and Elizabeth McGovern, who can be heard as the reader for the audio version of the novel, said “I have longed to make a film of Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone from the moment I first read it.” This will be Julia Goldani Telles’ first period drama, but you may recognize her from her role as Whitney Solloway in the television series The Affair.

Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box (1929)

The real Louise Brooks started her career as a dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies and was to become an early celebrity in the silent-film era.

Louise Brooks (1928)

A highly independent woman who didn’t conform to society’s expectations of women, Brooks has long been associated with her character as Lulu in Pandora’s Box (1929), which told the tale of the rise and inevitable fall of an amoral but naive young woman. Her flapper-girl persona and bobbed hair inspired thousands of women who adopted the style as their own.

In ten years time she starred in seventeen silent films and eight sound films, and then retired while in her early 30s. Brooks is the author of a number of books:  you can read her collected writings which Film Quarterly called “a minor classic” in Lulu in Hollywood

A young Louise Brooks

About The Chaperone the book: The New York Times bestseller and the USA Today #1 Hot Fiction Pick for the summer, The Chaperone is a captivating novel about the woman who chaperoned an irreverent Louise Brooks to New York City in 1922 and the summer that would change them both.

Only a few years before becoming a famous silent-film star and an icon of her generation, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita, Kansas, to study with the prestigious Denishawn School of Dancing in New York. Much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by a thirty-six-year-old chaperone, who is neither mother nor friend. Cora Carlisle, a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip, has no idea what she’s in for. Young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous black bob with blunt bangs, is known for her arrogance and her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will transform their lives forever.

For Cora, the city holds the promise of discovery that might answer the question at the core of her being, and even as she does her best to watch over Louise in this strange and bustling place she embarks on a mission of her own. And while what she finds isn’t what she anticipated, she is liberated in a way she could not have imagined. Over the course of Cora’s relationship with Louise, her eyes are opened to the promise of the twentieth century and a new understanding of the possibilities for being fully alive.

Drawing on the rich history of the 1920s,’30s, and beyond—from the orphan trains to Prohibition, flappers, and the onset of the Great Depression to the burgeoning movement for equal rights and new opportunities for women—Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone illustrates how rapidly everything, from fashion and hemlines to values and attitudes, was changing at this time and what a vast difference it all made for Louise Brooks, Cora Carlisle, and others like them.

“With her shiny black bob and milky skin, Louise Brooks epitomized silent-film glamour. But in Laura Moriarty’s engaging new novel The Chaperone, Brooks is just a hyper-precocious and bratty 15-year-old, and our protagonist, 36-year-old Cora Carlisle, has the not-easy mission of keeping the teenager virtuous while on a trip from their native Kansas to New York City. After a battle of wills, there’s a sudden change of destiny for both women, with surprising and poignant results.”—Entertainment Weekly

Buy The Chaperone, the book. 

 

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to also see the article about Downton’s Cast in Other Period Dramas. You’ll also want to visit the Post-Downton Survival Guide and the Best Period Dramas: Interwar Era List.

The Chaperone is a coproduction of MASTERPIECE and Rose Pictures in association with Anonymous Content. The Executive Producers are Rebecca Eaton, Simon Curtis, Eli Selden and Adam Shulman. The producers are Elizabeth McGovern, Rose Ganguzza, Kelly Carmichael, Victoria Hill and Gary Hamilton.

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