HOME   News   Reviews   Adv Search   Features   My DVD   About   Apps   Stats     Search:
  Directed by
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • French: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
    English, French, Arabic
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary - Director Gillan Armstrong
  • 2 Featurette - A Village Revisits History, Living Through Wartime

Charlotte Gray

Universal/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 116 mins . M . PAL


No film in recent memory has polarised critics quite like acclaimed Australian director Gillian Armstrong’s latest project Charlotte Gray; slammed as a slow and derivative thriller, and lauded as wonderfully moving melodrama in equal parts. Harking back to the classic days of cinema, Charlotte Gray is a stirring tale of romance amid the horrors of WWII that evokes the romantic vision of wartime that so typified the films of the '40s. On the surface it’s pulp romantic fodder - well-crafted fodder mind you - and yet, where similar films such as the woeful Pearl Harbor failed utterly, Armstrong’s film deftly balances gnawing tension, romance and tragedy to create a simple yet moving drama that held me thoroughly spellbound.

Not to give too much away, Charlotte Gray (the divine Cate Blanchett), a young, educated Scotswoman, has moved to blitz-stricken London to help out in one of London’s many makeshift surgeries. On the train one rainy afternoon, what seems like a chance meeting with a weaselly public servant (James Fleet), impressed as he is by her ability to read Stendahl in French, results in an invitation to a book signing later in the week. Arriving at the signing with her two chums Daisy (Abigail Cruttenden) and Sally (Charlotte McDougall), she meets a young British pilot named Peter (Rupert Penry Jones) and the two fall head over heels for each other (there is a war on and all). However, after a torrid week of making with the love, Peter must return to his squadron and their tussle with Gerry, and all too soon Charlotte learns he has been shot down over France.

Emboldened by Peter’s bravery and willingness to making the ultimate sacrifice for his country, and with more than a tinge of hope at the possibility of finding him, Charlotte enlists in the British SOE to follow him to the continent. Trained in communications, explosives and other aspects of guerilla warfare, she is herself finally dropped behind the German lines, deep into the heart of occupied France. Meeting up with her new comrades – a French Resistance cell and its devilishly handsome leader Julienne (Billy Crudup) - she fights the good fight for old Blighty and mother France. But soon the confusion of war and its ever-shifting politics begins to take its toll, and Charlotte can’t seem to remember who, why or what she is fighting for...

"Nobody fights for their country. They fight for their family; for someone they love. But never their country."

Despite playing out like the romance it very clearly is, Charlotte Gray paints with a much broader dramatic palette. There’s an underlying tension that ebbs and flows throughout the film; vividly expressing the gnawing fear that was daily life for the guerilla fighters of the French Resistance. Various sub-plots mix laughter with tragedy, helping to add credibility and hmm heart (uugh) to the central, melodramatic plot. When the romance comes, it isn’t cheesy, it’s almost a welcome respite; just as it would have been for all wartime romances.

Of course with Charlotte Gray's stellar cast, any half-baked plot would seem like Shakespeare, and the the film’s three leads do not disappoint. Amazing in the titular role, Cate Blanchett surpasses any and all superlatives with her moving, and more importantly genuine, portrayal of Charlotte; a character whose bravery, intellect and compassion make her one of the most well-drawn female characters that Hollywood has produced in years. Matching Cate scene for scene, Billy Crudup’s performance is wonderfully understated as the smoldering French communist whose relationship with his father has faltered. Certainly when Cate and Billy face-off there's never been a more evenly matched clash of the cheekbones. Stealing scenes aplenty, Michael Gambon puts in a wonderful and surprisingly endearing performance as Julien’s wise old father, and two of the best things about acclaimed British drama North Square in Rupert Penry Jones and Helen McCrory also make welcome appearances.


Presented at its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the visual splendour that is Charlotte Gray has been treated beautifully by Universal for its much anticipated DVD release. Filmed on location in the UK and France, the cinematography is absolutely stunning; awash with sweeping European vistas - be they the highlands of Scotland or the beautiful French countryside. Filmed in and around the medieval French village of St Antonen, the striking, textured locations are a reason to see the film in and of themselves. Succeeding perfectly in evoking '40s Europe, Armstrong and her crew’s amazing attention to detail shows in the wonderfully authentic production design, costumes and hairstyles. Cate Blanchett has never looked more heavenly.

The good news is that the wonderful cinematography and production design are complimented beautifully by a sharp, crystal clean transfer. The wealth of detail on display is breathtaking, with the transfer rendering the antiquated locations, drifts of fallen winter leaves, even the weave in coarse woollen tunics to perfection. Colours are stunning, with perfectly rendered skin tones, and the rich browns and greens of the French countryside leaping off the screen. The all-important black level is also perfect, with several crucial night-scenes displaying impressive shadow detail.

Although a little moiré is displayed in the initial and final shots of the film (that feature row upon row of French lavender fields), the transfer is surprisingly clear of aliasing-related effects given the high level of sharpness. MPEG artefacts are also largely non-existent, except for a touch of macro-blocking that sneaks into the transfer’s out of focus backgrounds towards the end of the film. But this is a small quibble. Charlotte Gray is a film for which the term visual feast was coined, and this digital treatment by Universal certainly does not disappoint.


Right from the opening scene, where thunder over the Scottish highlands rolls ominously across the rear channels, Charlotte Gray promises to be subtle yet powerful audio experience. Certainly the Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes in both English and French don’t disappoint, displaying impressive channel separation and a welcome dose of low-end activity. Several panning effects are in evidence, with Dakotas flying across and columns of German soldiers walking down the lengths of your living room.

And when the action hots up, so too the surround channel activity increases, with the crack of rifle-fire, the ricochet of bullets, shrapnel, and bits of exploding train emanating from all corners of the soundstage. As I hinted, the subwoofer gets a good workout, with the shunting of the film’s many steam trains (for good reason does one of the Dolby trailers feature such sounds), impressive explosions, the pounding of heavy munitions, the thunder of rolling tanks and various other vehicles to keep it occupied.

With clear and distinct dialogue for the duration, the soundtrack also displays a reasonable level of ambient sound during key scenes (usually involving crowds or war machines), but more often than not director Armstrong entrusts the soundstage to Stephen Warbeck’s stirring score. Balanced nicely between the front and rear channels, the score runs the gamut from Celtic melancholy, through traditional French folk and the dramatic strains of the war-epic, and represents the perfect accompaniment to a wonderfully moving film.


Static, non-anamorphic menus overlaid with the film’s stirring score provide access to a small number of extras, and the commentary from director Gillian Armstrong is the only of these that will generate any real interest. A little stilted to begin with, Armstrong soon settles into her task and the results are an interesting discussion of the various locations, casting, and issues involved in adapting the book, all mixed with a number of insider references. Also discussed is the controversial decision to film all the French scenes with English dialogue. A reasonably technical commentary, Armstrong easily held my attention for the duration of the film.

Also included are two painfully short featurettes. A Village Revisits History (3:50) provides interviews with cast and crew about working with the townspeople of St Antonen, and the effect on the elder residents of seeing German tanks rolling through their streets again. Living Through Wartime (3:42) presents a short discussion of the lead character’s arc; how the experience of war changed her and the people around her.

A theatrical trailer, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, is also provided. It displays a reasonable transfer.


I must say, I was more than a little surprised by how much I enjoyed Charlotte Gray. What I assumed to be a melodramatic (and I admit thoroughly girly) romance turned out to be so much more. Yes it's a wartime melodrama, but this is no Hollywood schlock like Pearl Harbor. Charlotte Gray, with its wonderful performances from Cate and co., is genuinely entertaining drama and I thoroughly recommend it to all.

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1980
  • Send to a friend.

    Cast your vote here: You must enable cookies to vote.
      And I quote...
    "...deftly balances gnawing tension, romance and tragedy to create a simple yet thoroughly spellbinding drama. Cate Blanchett has never looked more heavenly."
    - Gavin Turner
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Toshiba SD-2108
    • TV:
          Panasonic TC-68P90A TAU (80cm)
    • Receiver:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Amplifier:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Speakers:
          B&W 602
    • Centre Speaker:
          B&W CC6 S2
    • Surrounds:
          JM Lab Cobalt SR20
    • Subwoofer:
          B&W ASW-500
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
      Recent Reviews:
    by Gavin Turner

    Daddy Day Care
    "Steadfastly walking the firm, middle ground of ‘family-values’ entertainment, it’s a light, sometimes funny and often enjoyable film full of cute kids and obvious gags. "

    Please Teacher! Volume 1 - Hot For Teacher
    "It’s one of the quintessential schoolboy fantasies…"

    "What's in a title? Returner may well be a self-fulfilling prophecy… "

    Hulk: CE
    "Collector's or Special Edition? That is the question..."

    "Combining camp Summer-blockbuster with compelling, human drama, Ang Lee's Hulk is essential viewing."

      Related Links
      None listed


    Search for Title/Actor/Director:
    Google Web dvd.net.au
       Copyright © DVDnet. All rights reserved. Site Design by RED 5