dir Gillian Armstrong
scr Jeremy Brock
with Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon, Rupert Penry Jones, Ron Cook, Nicholas Farrell, James Fleet, Anton Lesser, Charlie Condou, Abigail Cruttenden, Charlotte McDougall, Robert Hands
release US 28.Dec.01; UK 22.Feb.02
FilmFour 01/UK 2h01
Based on Sebastian Faulk's bestseller, this compelling story is rendered thoughtful and rather dull in Armstrong's plush film adaptation. Charlotte (Blanchett) is a Scottish woman involved in the war effort in WWII London. She falls for a handsome pilot (Penry Jones), who is soon shot down over occupied France. So Charlotte uses her mastery of French language and culture to get a job as a spy behind enemy lines where she can both help the resistance and look for her man. Her local contact is Julien (Crudup), who with his crusty old father (Gambon) provides a bit of family away from home.
There is real tension and excitement in this tale, but Armstrong somehow loses most of it in the transition to the big screen. She gets all the details right--the place and time are rendered stunningly on-screen, and Blanchett delivers yet another translucent performance full of telling nuance and rhythms. But it's all so earnest and worthy that it never springs to life--only Gambon displays any spark of humour. The various romantic and political entanglements don't resonate either, leaving the central plotline unconvincing and uninspiring. Even the horrors of Nazi occupation seem somehow glossy and overly familiar; the brutality never gives us that shock of revulsion. This is even more frustrating since the film is so well made--you actively want it to be better than it is ... you want to feel the passion that's hinted at in the story and characters. And although the film does have moments of quiet beauty and power, it just never makes our heart skip a beat, as it should with a story as rich and complex as this one.
|"13 Rue Madelaine made just after World War II with James Cagney as a secret agent in occupied France was far more tense and focused than Charlotte Gray, story about an agent in Vichy France. In the recent film, the tension wasn't there, and the focus was lost. Was it about saving Jews from the invariable trains? Was it about Charlotte's dictim, 'I want to do something brave'? Was it about the French Resistence? It had too much of too little. It may have been an attempt to show how women contributed to the war effort, but Rue Madelaine did it better half a century ago. **" --Mark Roland, Salinas, California 11.Jul.02