War Is Never Simple
Release Date: December 28, 2001
Audience: Teenagers & adults
Runtime: 120 minutes
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Director: Gillian Armstrong
Producer: Sarah Curtis & Douglas Rae
Writer: Jeremy Brock
Address Comments To:Barry M. Meyer, Chairman/CEO
Warner Bros., Inc.
4000 Warner Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91522-0001
Phone: (818) 954-6000
The world is at war, London under siege, France occupied by the Germans, and Charlotte has ventured to London from her job in Scotland to do what she can to help, passionately wanting to make a difference. On the train and at a subsequent book publishing party, she meets two men who change her once-ordinary life into a life as a covert spy with a new identity in occupied France. One of the men recruits her as an undercover agent to support the Resistance. With the other, RAF pilot Peter Gregory (Rupert Penry-Jones), she falls in love. When his plane is shot down, she enters rigorous training as an undercover agent. Near the end of her preparation, the psychiatrist asks, “Of these three, which is most important to you: faith, hope or love?”
“Hope,” she says, without hesitating, implying that right now, the most important thing is the hope that Peter is still alive.
Months later, this ordinary young woman parachutes into a field in France, is greeted by the local Resistance team leader and walks out as Dominique into a once-peaceful French village behind enemy lines. Peter had told Charlotte, “War makes us into people we didn’t know we were.” As Dominique, she enters a world of intrigue and danger and participates in acts of bravery she never could have imagined.
Compounding the oppressive atmosphere caused by increased National Socialist (Nazi) troop presence in the village is the threat and intimidation of the collaborators, French people who believe that cooperating with the German occupation forces secures “the safety of French citizens.” The safety ends when a collaborator implicates a fellow citizen in the protection of a Jew or casts suspicion on a neighbor’s heritage.
Armed with her hope, her strong moral center and her newly-acquired skills, Charlotte/Dominique forges new, uneasy alliances, following her instructions to “suspect everyone.” Two essential alliances are her British contact, Mirabel, war-weary, no longer wanting to be there, and Julien Levade (Billy Crudup), the Communist leader of the Resistance cell with whom she is working. After seeing another female agent arrested and hauled away, herself possibly exposed, Dominique is relocated as housekeeper on the country estate of the eccentric Monsieur Levade (Michael Gambon), the emotionally estranged father of Julien. Ostensibly, the two are estranged because the son is “a Communist,” and most people knew at the time that Communists were as bad as their cousins, the National Socialists, although Hollywood has so whitewashed Communists that now they are little more than idealists, not the dedicated and evil terrorists of their day. Monsieur Levade is a pragmatist, although he earned his share of medals in a previous world war.
Theirs is a “comfortable estrangement” that soon involves Julien’s father in providing a “cover” for a secret agent and harboring two Jewish boys whose parents have disappeared, leaving them devastated and at risk. Dominique’s role in this “domestic” scenario provides the basis for her strongest relationships and her discovery of what she genuinely values and how deeply she is capable of caring for other people. Her overt concern and actions on behalf of the old gentleman and the two young boys place her in much greater jeopardy than her assignments as a courier behind enemy lines, in clandestine meetings with her contacts and while providing assistance to the Resistance in derailing trains and monitoring German troop movements.
A moral, Christian worldview is the milieu of CHARLOTTE GRAY. Sustaining principles of regard for life, responsibility and concern for others and a high sense of purpose resonate with these characters, even when obscured by pettiness and seeming indifference. It is seen in the sacrifice of self for individuals and countrymen, in compassion for “the other,” in the risk of personal safety out of love for others, and in the keen understanding that war, itself, is an attack on and a violation of that worldview. The moral worldview in this movie is a given, more understood than fully articulated.
CHARLOTTE GRAY is an excellent, intense story with the spotlight on human drama and relationships played out on a world stage. Strong performances enhance a good screenplay by Jeremy Brock based on the novel by Sebastian Faulks. (One disappointment is that Charlotte, recruited as an agent because of her proficiency in the language, never speaks French after landing in France.) The production and the key characters seem shaped by respect born of extensive research by the writer, director, producers, and stars on the thousands of “ordinary” people who left the relative safety of home to become undercover agents and who found incredible courage in the face of great danger.
Spoiling the movie’s moral worldview are the references to Julien’s Communist beliefs, but CHARLOTTE GRAY is not a political movie in that sense, although it fails to acknowledge the revolutionary brutality of Communism. There is one scene, however, where a character suggests that the English spymasters in London might be willing to betray the Communists in the French Resistance to the Germans in order to get the Communists out of the way since it looks like the Germans are losing the war. The movie never proves or disproves his comments, however.
In the end, the war for Charlotte and Julien becomes a personal affair rather than a political one. Charlotte’s moral sense is aroused when the National Socialists and their collaborators mistreat the people she encounters.
In this exciting story, Cate Blanchett (ELIZABETH), Billy Crudup (ALMOST FAMOUS) and Michael Gambon give powerful performances of Jeremy Brock’s fine screenplay. Director Gillian Armstrong maintains an exquisite balance between the grand scope of a world war and an intense focus on the human elements in her story – the effects of war on ordinary people. A moral, Christian worldview is the milieu of CHARLOTTE GRAY. That worldview and its principles are a more understood and acted upon than articulated. Regrettably, CHARLOTTE GRAY contains some violence, revisionist history, brief foul language, and sexuality. Also, although CHARLOTTE GRAY is not a political movie, it fails to acknowledge the brutality of Communism.