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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 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 The screenplay places little emphasis on the shy, withdrawn character living as an outsider in London, but concentrates on the development after Charlotte is told to "always remember who you are not."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.

The film looks exquisite on DVD and Gillian Armstrong’s intelligent and articulate commentary gives us a keen insight into the background and making of the film. There are plenty of fascinating facts to hone our appreciation for the film, but I was most interested to hear why the decision was taken to shoot the film entirely in English. When she read the first draft, Armstrong spoke to the producers about the issue and how the premise of the film hinges on Charlotte Gray’s exceptional language skills allowing her to be in France undetected. Exploring the option of using French, the producers allowed Armstrong to have the script translated, and they quickly realised that indeed over half the film would therefore be in spoken French. Although Cate was willing to learn her script in French, there were only two months in which to perfect the language. 

In addition to this pressure, it became evident that if the film were shot in French, the two children would have to be recast (two British children had been cast), and that all communication would subsequently need to be through a dialogue coach. Moreover, Armstrong would have to direct the greater part of the film in a language that is not hers. Plus, the risk of Cate’s French being criticised if it were not perfect, was also high. “It was agonising,” says Armstrong of the decision, which also involved the investors. It would indeed have been a very different film – requiring another director and another star. (The script was sent to Armstrong by Blanchett; they had worked together previously on Oscar and Lucinda.)

The two features are interesting – I especially enjoyed the first ‘A village revisits history’, in which the filmmakers talk about the quaint, historic location of St Anton near Toulouse, which they took over for five weeks. One of the conditions of shooting there was that the locals could participate as extras in some of the scenes; Cate Blanchett talks about how she realised during the filming that their work had great impact on the people living there, as they had seen tanks coming through the village once before in wartime.

Published November 14, 2002

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CAST: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon

DIRECTOR: Gillian Armstrong

RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary with director Gillian Armstrong; Village Revisits History' documentary; Living Through Wartime' documentary; Original theatrical trailer.


DVD RELEASE: November 13, 2002

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