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Charlotte Gray (Gillian Anderson) 2001   

    Gillian Anderson’s Charlotte Gray is a wonderfully old school endeavor, and it’s the sort of movie that will provoke revulsion in those who cannot stand that its group of freedom fighters always look as if they’re ready for a photo shoot. Since the film stars an actress as luminescent as Cate Blanchett, who plays Charlotte Grey, an undercover courier stuck in the ration-filled world of WWII-era France, we can be glad that the movie doesn’t try to tone down her beauty. In fact, her always done hair and the great costumes lend a bit of dignity and class to a character that, understandably, feels like a bundle of frayed nerves most of the time. Charlotte has grown up in Scotland, moved to England, and lives in France under an assumed name during the occupation, and the layers to the lie that she lives are always threatening to reveal themselves. The stress that her sense of duty causes weighs heavily upon her, and her attempts to connect with others, even through idol chitchat, are seen as flirtations with death by those around her.   

    During Charlotte’s enlistment process, she is asked if she might be romanticizing the notion of war a bit, and while she gives answers that suggest she isn’t, her ability to do just that proves to be her saving grace. Her motivating factors stem from a righteous belief that things will work out if she tries and hopes hard enough, and that gritty sense of determination is endearing. That Charlotte might make too much of her role in the war’s events is beside the point, since the film never does. So many of the film’s elements feel slickly sentimental, but none of the scenes played that way for me. Charlotte’s story might feel large to her, but the movie seems to acknowledge there’s much more to this story than Charlotte might realize, without ever resorting to newsreel accountings of outside events. Perhaps, it’s because the film’s uniquely feminine perspective feels like just the tip of the iceberg of this sort of untold war stories. In this film, women fight alongside men, and there’s next to no moment in which they are seen as anything less than equals, even when suspected of treachery.   

    The quality of the cast (Billy Crudup and Michael Gambon also give wonderfully unmannered performances) and the incisive intelligence of the dialogue keep things from ever boiling over into sappy territory. It’s one of the rare novel adaptations that doesn’t feel encumbered by obviously reduced characters that are arbitrary and events that make little sense in the context of the movie. I imagine if Charlotte Gray was released many years ago, it would be fondly remembered today, but a tasteful exercise like this one, which coasts on the grace of its stars and the splendor of its scope, is a difficult movie to justify liking in today’s film climate. If that’s the case for you, call it a guilty pleasure, but clearly I found much to enjoy here at face value. 



Jeremy Heilman