Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Charlotte Gray (2001)

Courtesy of Channel Four Television

Main image of Charlotte Gray (2001)
35mm, colour, 121 mins
DirectorGillian Armstrong
Production CompanyFilmFour
ProducersSarah Curtis, Douglas Rae
ScreenplayJeremy Brock
Original novelSebastian Faulks
PhotographyDion Beebe
MusicStephen Warbeck

Cast: Cate Blanchett (Charlotte Gray), Billy Crudup (Julien Levade), Michael Gambon (Levade), Rupert Penry-Jones (Peter Gregory), James Fleet (Richard Cannerley), Abigail Cruttenden (Daisy)

Show full cast and credits

1942: Charlotte Gray is a Scottish woman who meets a handsome pilot, Peter Gregory, in London. They embark on an affair but Peter goes missing during a flight over occupied France. In the hope of finding out what happened to him, Charlotte goes undercover for the Resistance in Vichy.

Show full synopsis

Charlotte Gray has developed an unfortunate, and possibly undeserved, reputation as the movie that killed its production company, Film Four. As a glossy period piece, based on a best-selling novel and with an impressive international cast, its £14 million budget must have seemed like a relatively low-risk investment for the ambitious commercial off-shoot of Britain's fourth television channel. But the film was beset with disastrous reviews, poor domestic box office returns and problems with international distribution, and it was cited by many as a key factor in Channel Four's 2002 decision to scale down its feature film production. But is the film itself really as safe, predictable and profligate as its sad place in history would suggest?

The story, adapted from Sebastian Faulks' novel, offers few surprises within the generic context of the WW2 drama. The eponymous Scottish heroine, played by Australian actress Cate Blanchett, is motivated primarily by her love for an English airman shot down in the field. She becomes a spy to find him, but then shifts her attentions to handsome and heroic resistance fighter Levade (Billy Crudup). The Germans are evil, the French collaborators at best misguided and at worst depraved, and the horror of genocide is focussed into the loss of two brave little Jewish boys. Charlotte's sole victory derives not from her intelligence training, but from her assumption of a maternal role for her doomed charges, to the extent of writing them a faked letter from their missing mother.

The directorial treatment of this story from Blanchett's compatriot Gillian Armstrong is restrained and unflashy. Visual spectacle is offered by shots of the French scenery contrasted with a blitz-ravaged London, as well as the detailed - and clearly expensive - recreation of costume and mise-en-scène expected from the mainstream period film. The performances are generally effective, if somewhat hampered by the decision to use English dialogue with a variety of uneven accents. This is particularly noticeable given the film's early insistence of Charlotte's linguistic talent; she is spotted as a potential spy while reading a French novel on the train, but once in France continues to speak with a Midlothian burr. Armstrong has defended this strategy in pragmatic terms, given the cast she wanted to work with. But it is difficult to escape the feeling that the avoidance of subtitles, like many other creative choices made here, were motivated largely by the need to satisfy American audiences.

James Caterer

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Do you speak French? (2:46)
2. Charlotte is dead (3:06)
3. La Résistance (3:07)
4. Collaboration (2:45)
Production stills
Blanchett, Cate (1969-)
Gambon, Sir Michael (1940-)
Webster, Paul (1952-)