Charlotte Gray

Charlotte Gray


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

She is not a heroine. She's just a girl from St Andrews who goes to London, gets a job, falls in love and speaks French. That's the key. After sharing a carriage on a train with a boring academic and admitting to her language skills as a way of polite conversation, the next thing she knows she's being interviewed by tweedy types in a room at the Ministry and suddenly she's a spy. Well, not a spy exactly. An agent of sorts. The year is 1940 something and there's a war on.

She goes through a period of training, in which the emphasis is on PT, and is told that from now on her name is Dominique and she comes from Paris and her husband was killed in the front line - any front line, as long as he's dead. She is dropped into the Vichy-run South, where she will meet her contact. She doesn't know what she's doing. She never finds out. This is one of the mysteries. Another is why the French speak English.

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The film suffers from CCC (Captain Corelli's Chocolat), a prettifying disease that affects cinematographers. Charlotte's involvement with the Resistance is arbitrary. She tags along, but doesn't do much. The real drama concerns two Jewish kids, whose parents have been taken away, the good-looking-but-principled Julien (Billy Crudup) and his dad (Michael Gambon), who lives in a run-down chateau and complains a lot.

Based on a novel by Mr Birdsong (Sebastian Faulks), the war camouflages what is going on in the author's head, which is romance. The locals in the village have cliché roles - the busybody, the collaborator, the purvey teacher, etc. The Germans are efficient, rather than ruthless, and their presence is a reminder that bad things can happen very quickly. In fact, this is one of those movies that signals trouble by having a quiet, peaceful sequence immediately preceding it.

Charlotte is told, "If I was you, I'd keep your knickers on and your trap shut." This is her contact speaking, a crook from Birmingham, who has a bad attitude towards the whole of humanity. Up at the big house, the old man cooks soup and the kids run around annoying him. Julien says he's a Communist, which means politics comes before rumpy pumpy. He stands about smoking roll ups and being serious, while Charlotte admires his cheek bones.

Cate Blanchett has a wistful integrity and a delicate trace of a Fife accent. Charlotte is almost too good to be true. Blanchett makes her believable. Gambon has an odd way of chopping logs. He holds the axe funny. Otherwise, he avoids becoming [actor]John Hurt[/actor]. Crudup is one of the finest of the new batch of American actors, who has the looks and ability to be a star. Rather than leaping for the limelight, like Brad Pitt, he chooses carefully (Jesus' Son, [film]Almost Famous[/film]) and brings to Julien an unexpected conviction.

Reviewed on: 20 Feb 2002
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Cate Blanchett is sent to France during war to help Resistance and discover romance.
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Director: Gillian Armstrong

Writer: Jeremy Brock, based on the novel by Sebastian Faulks

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon, Rupert Pendry-Jones, Anton Lesser, James Fleet

Year: 2001

Runtime: 121 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Germany/UK/Australia


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