Movie Review by Alice Castle
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon, John Pierce Jones
Director: Gillian Armstrong
Charlotte Gray (Cate Blanchett) tells the story of a young Scottish woman who becomes an intelligence agent for the British in Vichy France circa 1943. Having mastered French as a child, Charlotte manages to pass herself off as a French housewife turned housekeeper to work as an intelligence agent for the British. She has a personal reason for going to France too – her lover, an RAF pilot has been shot down and reported missing in enemy territory.
It’s not often that you see a movie which is actually better than the book – DR ZHIVAGO in fact is the only one I can think of. But Film Four’s adaptation of Sebastian Faulks novel manages to condense the original story into a far more appealing love story. While I loved ‘Birdsong’, ‘Charlotte Gray’ which I read immediately after reading Faulks’ superb and moving World War I trench-based novel, was a disappointment. Perhaps it didn’t quite work for me because I couldn’t feel empathy for Charlotte – but I’ve heard many people say similar things.
Cate Blanchett is Ramplinesque in her portrayal of the Scottish girl turned intelligence agent. From the moment the film opens with shots scanning the lush lavender fields of Provence, you know it’s going to be beautifully shot. Attention to detail in costume for example makes it a very satisfying period piece – the kind of film which might start influencing cat walk designs next season. And Blanchett looks wonderful in fitted suits, sleek hair and stylish hats.
Billy Cruddup is also a surprisingly convincing Frenchman playing the passionate Julien, risking life to protect two young Jewish children who have been separated from their parents. His father (who was a painter in the book) is played by Sir Michael Gambon, who never fails to deliver, and Charlotte’s first lover Rupert Penry-Jones is the most perfect cinematic English public school-boy I’ve seen in a long time.
It’s a compelling story – with other themes running through, notably father-son issues – trust and betrayal. But then you can’t really go far wrong with war time France and the bravery of the Resistance movement.