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Charlotte Gray


Charlotte Gray

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Early in their affair, a previously cheery British airman (Rupert Penry-Jones) lets his new girlfriend know, almost casually, about the high stakes of WWII. "I've lost all my friends," he tells her, and nothing about the statement suggests exaggeration. As one of the new class of job-holding women created by the war, Londoner Cate Blanchett already has some notion of how intense the death and destruction can get. Soon, she gets an even better notion, as she sees the war from a new vantage. After Penry-Jones' plane disappears over France, Blanchett decides to make good on an intelligence officer's offer to join the force; her fluency in French makes her an ideal candidate to work as a British spy, aiding the French resistance. After a crash course in the spy trade, she begins posing as a Parisian displaced to a small Vichy city, employing her anonymity to elude the constant police surveillance and using her spare time and resources to track down her lost love. By slimming down Sebastian Faulks' popular novel of the same name, Charlotte Gray risks becoming the paperback thriller its plot description suggests, but director Gillian Armstrong and screenwriter Jeremy Brock show little interest in sensationalizing the life of a spy. Instead, the film takes great pains to capture the tedium and creeping dread of espionage. Trained in codes, customs, and weaponry, Blanchett is given little to do but wait and fear exposure, first alone and then at the nearby farmhouse of WWI hero Michael Gambon, the father of Communist resistance fighter Billy Crudup and the protector of two Jewish boys separated from their parents. Violence, when it comes, comes quickly and devastates everyone it touches. The double dealing of fellow agents and the seeming complicity of the populace in the Nazis' prejudices make disillusionment an occupational hazard; it's the sort of life that turns patriots, even those fighting a just war, into the hollowed-out shells that populate John Le Carré novels. Armstrong occasionally has trouble converting her control of atmosphere and character into a dynamic narrative. But her fine cast, led by Blanchett in another compelling performance, helps her magnify the costs of war—both quantifiable and otherwise—in one small patch of the world.