Recruited during 1943 by Section G in London, young Scottish woman Charlotte Gray (Cate Blanchett) is parachuted into France on a small but important mission. But she has her own agenda: to try and find Peter Gregory (Rupert Penry Jones), the missing RAF pilot with whom she had just fallen madly in love. She is dragged into the tragedies of the war through her contacts in the French Resistance, led by Julien (Billy Crudup) and her love of France is both rewarded and tested. But she can never go back to her previous life.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
From the opening credits superimposed on the rushing view of lavender fields from a train, Charlotte Gray creates a superbly appealing atmosphere, in what is a triumph of brilliantly blended cinematography and production design, costumes and music. Together, they capture the bitter sweet nostalgia that gradually transforms into a melancholy love drama as Gillian Armstrong’s direction elicits memorable performances. Faultless locations and attention to the smallest detail pays off in taking us into the time and place of the story, in the wintry heart of war in France, in 1943. Where the book builds its emotional plot slowly, observing character and gradually teasing out the inner stories, the film has to move more rapidly, and inevitably suffers in the comparison. So it is that the first half of the book – building the virginal Charlotte and her first lover, Peter as characters - is condensed into a few minutes on screen. But this is inevitable and fans of the book can surely allow for that. What is harder to accept is the use of English as the spoken language when so much is made of Charlotte’s fluency in French; this is no mere detail, of course, but a tough decision taken possibly on commercial grounds. Maybe it was felt English speaking audiences would baulk at having to deal with a hefty load of subtitles, and perhaps invoked the novel itself in support of the decision. It’s all written in English after all, even when we know the characters are speaking French. But the reader’s imagination is far more powerful – and flexible – than the viewer’s. This aspect, coupled with a less than steady Scottish accent from Cate Blanchett, detracts from the film, which manages to score some sizzling political points against each of the warring parties, from the Brits to the French to the Nazis. And when just over half way through the film Charlotte whispers to Julien, “I cannot go back…” the line resonates long enough to underline the ending.
Review by Louise Keller:
It begins and ends with a train trip. From the first glorious shot of a steam train making its way over a spectacular bridge with impossibly white puffs of smoke billowing from its funnel, we know we are in for a treat. An enthralling, visually spectacular and gripping tale about hope, love and courage, Charlotte Gray is totally compelling. I especially enjoyed the myriad of details that actually allow us to be 'mise en scene'. The costumes are superb: the detail is such that I am convinced that in one scene, the crooked seams of the stockings are intentional. Rich production design and the wonderful locations of the rolling French hills to the picturesque, historic village bring their own charm, while the splendid heavily stringed score conducts an orchestra of emotions in our hearts. Because there is so much emphasis on detail, it is therefore surprising that the all-important issue of accents and dialects seems to have been ignored. There is much to be said about the filmmakers' decision to retain the Scottish nationality (and accent) of the film's heroine. Managing a Scottish accent as well as a Scottish accent when undercover as a French local is absolutely impossible. And the accents waver. Although fluent in French (the required qualification for Charlotte's mission), we do not hear her (or the locals) speak the language at all. But, it is credit to Cate Blanchett that we are able to totally overlook these flaws. "Perfect casting" says novelist Sebastian Faulks, who suggested Blanchett for the role. And perfect indeed she is; wilful, brave, vulnerable and very human in this mesmerising and striking performance. The screenplay places little emphasis on the shy, withdrawn character living as an outsider in London, but concentrates on the development after Charlotte is told to "always remember who you are not." Billy Crudup is totally credible as rebellious Julien, while Michel Gambon's soulful performance as his gruff father is heartfelt. It's a passionate tale, beautifully told and Gillian Armstrong's direction hits the mark. Charlotte Gray will keep you on the edge of your seat, and will move you by the poignant intensity of its emotional heart.
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GILLIAN ARMSTRONG INTERVIEW by Andrew L. Urban.
CHARLOTTE GRAY (M)
CAST: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon, Rupert Penry Jones
PRODUCER: Sarah Curtis, Douglas Rae
DIRECTOR: Gillian Armstrong
SCRIPT: Jeremy Brock (novel by Sebastian Faulks)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dion Beebe ACS
EDITOR: Nicholas Beauman
MUSIC: Stephen Warbeck
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Joseph Bennett
RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 30, 2002