Charlotte Gray (Blanchett), a Londoner, joins the French Resistance after her pilot boyfriend gets shot down over France. When a fellow female spy is caught on her first drop-off assignment, Charlotte stays with local rebellion leader Julien (Crudup) and takes care of two Jewish boys whose parents have been captured. Meanwhile, she continues to meet with her contact to find ambush points for Julien.
Based on a novel, the characters are well-structured in a narrative that has tends toward predictability. Blanchett combines strength with touching vulnerability as she adapts to an increasingly claustrophobic atmosphere, one which she is free to leave at any time. Crudup is more than just an average rebel, a natural leader who balances intelligent productivity with recognition through shy words.
The upshot is the parallel growth between Charlotte's appreciation of France's predicament while Julien learns which battles are worth fighting. This pattern is pleasantly supported by Julien's father, Levarde (Michael Gambon), a tough recluse with a heart of gold. And though there is plenty of room for nauseating melodramatic interaction, as often seen in war movies like this, the script thankfully doesn't fall into this abyss.
Disappointment does come in the form of plot contrivances, such as when the local schoolteacher threatens the lives of the hidden Jews unless he is granted sex with Charlotte. Then, of course, there's the expected budding romance between Julien and Charlotte. What saves the movie from becoming a snoozefest is the impeccable acting juxtaposed with not everything leading to a happily-ever-after conclusion. There are some that will be rescued from Nazi clutches and some that won't, and this realism is respected.
Charlotte is thankfully a remarkable three-dimensional hero. She makes mistakes and doesn't always hold herself together in times of stress. It is indeed a pleasant surprise to see a female character that is strong in degrees, that is human instead of perfect. And it's a joy to watch her from one scene to the next, even if you know what that scene will be, because the reaction you're expecting often doesn't happen.
The other thematic attraction to Charlotte is that it's a woman's journey not constrained by whatever male is at her side. Her interaction with Julien is important, but she is the core of the film instead of simply being a helpful advisor to a powerful man. And where she has an effect on those in her environment, not everything she's involved with turns out the way she planned, a credit to the script.
Overall, Charlotte Gray impresses with fine acting and a realistic approach to the past, even if does fall into a few annoying recognizable stereotypes.
Run time: 121 mins
In Theaters: Friday 22nd February 2002
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 32%
Fresh: 28 Rotten: 60
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: Gillian Armstrong
Screenwriter: Jeremy Brock
Starring: Cate Blanchett as Charlotte Gray, James Fleet as Richard Cannerly, Abigail Cruttenden as Daisy, Charlotte McDougall as Sally, Rupert Penry-Jones as Peter Gregory, Robert Hands as Borowski, Billy Crudup as Julien Levade