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'Charlotte Gray'

'Charlotte Gray' portrays a World War II heroine

Friday, January 25, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A Royal Air Force pilot tries to warn Charlotte Gray, "War makes us into people we didn't know we were." In her case, it will make her into a braver, more resourceful woman than she ever imagined.

 
 
'Charlotte Gray'

RATING: PG-13 for some war-related violence, sensuality, brief strong language.

STARRING: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup

DIRECTOR: Gillian Armstrong

WEB SITE: movies.warnerbros
.com/cgray

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Actress Cate Blanchett was the ethereal Queen of the Elves in "Lord of the Rings," a promiscuous brunette named Petal in "The Shipping News" and a flame-haired housewife who hooks up with bank robbers in "Bandits," and those are just her credits for the last quarter of 2001. In "Charlotte Gray," opening today at Star City Cinemas, she's a Scottish woman who meets a stranger on the train, attends a book publishing party and falls for a British airman named Peter Gregory (Rupert Penry-Jones).

He cautions Charlotte about the line between bravery and sheer accident but she decides to use her fluency in French to go undercover and join the Resistance movement in France. Although she clearly feels the pull of duty, it's the desire to find Peter -- since shot down in the French countryside -- that initially motivates her. Once in the village of Lezignac, she puts into practice the lessons learned in spy school.

Posing as a married woman named Dominique, she is drawn into the efforts to stop the Nazis and -- on a more personal, local level -- to protect two Jewish boys whose parents vanished in the night. A fierce Frenchman named Julien (Billy Crudup, unrecognizable from his rocker in "Almost Famous") spirits the children away to the countryside home of his elderly father (Michael Gambon), and Dominique goes there to pose as housekeeper.

Even as she delivers secret messages about trainloads of German weaponry, she becomes attached to the boys -- as do Julien and the father, whose frostiness eventually thaws. The Nazis close in, people are betrayed and the old man's observation that nobody fights for their country, "they fight for their family, someone they love" rings truer than ever.

"Charlotte Gray," directed by Gillian Armstrong ("My Brilliant Career," "Mrs. Soffel," "Little Women"), is based on the similarly titled novel by Sebastian Faulks. The cast, across the board, is excellent but the dialogue traffics in truisms and the story jumps the track by the end. Perhaps one sorrowful twist is unavoidable, given the heinous reality of the time, but another feels false and is a cheat on the audience.

Still, this period drama transports us to another time and another country, when women in disguise were as important as men in uniform, and love and hope thrived amid evil.

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