Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Carve Her Name in Vogue

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Carve Her Name in Vogue

Article excerpt


CHARLOTTE GRAY . Cert 15, 121 mins

GILLIAN Armstrong's film is a turnip, as the French would say. Why wouldn't they say: "C'est un navet"?

Because Charlotte Gray (Cate Blanchett), the Scottish heroine parachuted into wartime Vichy France as a secret agent, speaks English all the time. So do the French townsfolk, gendarmerie, collaborators and the handsome Resistance rep (Billy Crudup).

No film today has any chance of registering a truthful impression of espionage being conducted on enemy territory if this outworn convention of making everyone Anglophone continuously sabotages all daily intercourse, covert operations, risks of exposure and even the tension of being an endangered stranger. Aren't we mature enough now - haven't we packaged enough of our hols - to stand hearing the locals wagging their native tongues? Too often Charlotte Gray sounds like 'Allo 'Allo! But the film based on Sebastian Faulks's novel cruelly exposes more than linguistic artimentfices. By the screen's very literalness, it shows up the story's fagged-out romanticism.

Charlotte's spymasters should have been warned when her response to the word "France" in a free-association test is "love". She volunteers to be dropped in France for less than patriotic impulses: because she's spent a weekend with a poster perfect RAF pilot (Rupert Penry-Jones) whose plane has been downed in Lot et Garonne.

Nothing about Charlotte's recruit-into Special Operations Executive is convincing. She's picked, apparently, because she is spotted reading Stendhal (Le Rouge et le noir) in French - yet the only French we hear her speak is: "Je veux acheter un billet pour le train", which is not entirely reassuring that she's up to conversational pitch. After some lightweight training (no mud on her makeup as she doubles around the fields) and basic advice ("Main thing is, don't panic"), she's dropped by night - bang on top of the two cute Jewish tots she will spend much of her duty hours hiding from the Germans.

What Charlotte's mission actually is remains vague: she's never seen calling England on her transmitter.

Most of her undercover work seems to be performed by another SOE agent (Ron Cook), with a thick Birmingham accent. (I wonder what his French sounded like.) Charlotte has the sort of natural chic that can't be disguised by carrying a flute of French bread (or pain, as we say in England). In fact, the French scenes recall photographic fashion shoots in which the models are set against some incongruous background - Arctic ice-floes, Bornean long-houses, Welsh coalmines - so as to show up the cut of their couture.

Charlotte already looked a treat in pre-SOE days in tailored navy suit with lighter overcheck. Even khaki Service blouses look custom made on her, and the dress sense and auburn hair-tint adopted to tone in with local fashion in provincial France, as well as with the ever-glowing autumn light bathing almost every scene, run to muted reds, rusts and olives, all colour co-ordinated with black-cherry lipstick. …

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