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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look42.31%
Average: 34.62%
Pretty Bad: 23.08%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 8 user ratings

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Charlotte Gray
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by Stephen Groenewegen

2 stars

Charlotte Gray is a World War II love story, but it doesn’t satisfy as either romance or adventure.

Charlotte Gray (Cate Blanchett) is a Scottish woman working in London during the War. She meets a handsome airman, Peter Gregory (Rupert Penry Jones), at a party. When Gregory’s plane disappears over France, Charlotte enlists for training to become a British agent in France (she grew up there and can speak the language fluently). Her new identity is Dominique Gilbert. Ostensibly in France to assist the resistance, Charlotte is also desperately seeking information about the missing Gregory.

Adapted by Jeremy Brock (Mrs Brown) from Sebastian Faulks’ novel, Charlotte Gray is a disappointing muddle. The screenplay focuses on the book’s middle section, detailing Charlotte’s adventures in France and her relationship with Julien Levade (Billy Crudup), the leader of the resistance cell in Lezignac. But the opening London scenes are choppy and piecemeal. They don’t sufficiently establish Charlotte’s pre-existing attachment to France, or why she’s willing to risk her life for a pilot she’s only just met.

Director Gillian Armstrong (Little Women, Oscar and Lucinda) is trying for an epic, and there’s some suitably impressive outdoor cinematography from Dion Beebe (Holy Smoke!, Praise). But for a war film about an undercover agent, there’s precious little excitement or suspense. I can remember only one tense moment in the film - a short scene of Charlotte hiding in a farmhouse to escape a pursuing gendarme. The few action set pieces – like the explosion of a train - are perfunctory and don’t add much to our understanding of the characters. The film generally has a rushed, impersonal feel.

Disconcertingly, Armstrong and Brock treat Lezignac like an English village. Nothing about it feels French and everyone, incongruously, speaks English - often with an English accent (or Scottish, in Charlotte’s case). This is a mistake because it’s important to Charlotte’s success as an agent that she passes as Dominique in the suspicious French town. We’re given scant evidence that her language skills are sufficient and her Scottish accent untraceable. Her British contact in the town seems worried that Dominique will give him away. But to us, he’s as conspicuously foreign as she is. Armstrong robs us of any suspense that they could be caught out, because we can’t tell if or when they’re arousing suspicion. It also renders the historical setting unbelievable.

Blanchett undergoes another astonishing transformation for this film - she’s completely different from any of her previous film characters. But she seems uncomfortable in this girlish role. It’s not clear whether Charlotte is supposed to be young and impulsive or bumbling and indecisive. I don’t remember her being this careless an agent in the novel. She dyes her hair black by an open window, in full view of the collaborating school teacher; she chases and calls after her fellow British operative in the village; and leaves the gate to a secret meeting point wide open. It’s hard to understand what the comparatively levelheaded Levade sees in her, beyond an ability to remain alive against the odds.

Crudup (Jesus’ Son, Almost Famous), however, is astutely cast and personifies the film’s theme of the bravery of ordinary people. He doesn’t have the look of a dashing, romantic hero as Penry Jones’ Gregory does. Levade proves his heroism through the strength of his passion and belief in his cause, and his willingness to keep fighting when his friends are being killed. This shines through in Crudup’s performance. Unlike the majority of the cast, Crudup also manages to believably blend with his surroundings.

Charlotte Gray highlights one little known fact of this sad period - the workings of the “Jewish quota” that collaborating villages were forced to maintain with bureaucratic efficiency. Otherwise, it’s a shallow film that doesn’t do justice to the significance of its historical setting.

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originally posted: 03/15/02 13:06:07
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User Comments

8/17/05 tatum Shows the French weren't a bunch of cowards 4 stars
11/24/04 R.W. Welch Actually a pretty fair French resistance story but played a shade heavy. 3 stars
11/22/03 Jinnvisible Beautifull location photography , subtle and well acted. 4 stars
5/17/03 George Jung Nothing special. 3 stars
3/27/03 Ionicera they speak the king's english in france 3 stars
3/13/03 Shadaan Good enough ! 4 stars
8/21/02 Phil M. Aficionado Good cast, beautifully filmed and scored, decent story 4 stars
6/10/02 Matthew Smith a tense and beautifully made period film 4 stars
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  28-Dec-2001 (PG-13)



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