Resistance and Romance 

Cate Blanchett and Billy Crudup make googly eyes in World War II France.

Who doesn't love a good, sappy romance movie? You know, besides men. Men don't like them very much. But everyone else seems to love them. And the best of them were made in the '40s, when there was a war on that we could all get behind, because if there's one thing that men like it's war, so between the romance movies and the killing of Nazis, everyone was happy back then, except maybe the hermaphrodites.

Anyway, we've got another war sort of on, and so it seems time to have another war-oriented romantic movie, but this war isn't exactly as romantic as that one in the '40s, so the producers of Charlotte Gray set their classic romance in the classical romantic period of World War II, and gave it a classical romantic plot.

Cate Blanchett plays Charlotte Gray, a patriotic English woman whose name just happens to be the same as the title of the movie she's in. While on a train in 1940 she meets a man who tries to persuade her to become a British spy in Vichy France.

Charlotte will have none of that until she meets a handsome (by English standards) RAF pilot. Seeing that he's willing to sacrifice all for his country, or whatever it was that people were sacrificing all for back then, Charlotte decides to sign up herself. She's still a little iffy on the concept until her flyboy boyfriend gets shot down somewhere in France, and she figures she can kill two birds with one stone by fighting the Nazis and simultaneously trying to find her dapper (by English standards) young man.

While on assignment in collaborationist France, Charlotte meets resistance fighter Julien Lavade, who has the good fortune to be played by Billy Crudup, who's handsome even by French standards. In fact, Billy Crudup is so cute he could turn Jesus gay, so it isn't long before Charlotte is making googly eyes at him, and, since Charlotte is played by Cate Blanchett, he starts making googly eyes back at her. I think that's what resistance fighters did, make googly eyes, you know, when they weren't assassinating collaborationists.

Now the weird thing is that when Charlotte is in London practicing her French she speaks French, with a French accent, but when she's in France she speaks English, as do all the French people, mostly with English accents. Except Billy Crudup, who, being American, speaks English with a French accent. I mean, I felt like I was going crazy.

And Charlotte is supposed to be Scottish, so when she's speaking French but really speaking English you'd think it would be with a Scottish accent, but since Cate Blanchett is Australian, the accent is just sort of generically foreign. Like the accent the ancient Romans had in Gladiator.

This really shouldn't have bothered me so much, but the movie gets a little dull in the middle, so I had a lot of time to think about that sort of thing.

On the plus side, it's a pretty film with pretty people, so if you're mildly drunk I imagine it would be great fun to look at. There's lots of shots of fields of violets and old French houses and the pretty French countryside and the attractive leads. Blanchett does a lot of staring just past the camera looking intense, in some non-specific sense of "intense," which isn't really acting, but then who cares.

And Crudup does a lot of looking just past the camera while appearing complex and profound, and you can almost hear the cameraman saying "Hey, Billy, get those cheekbones away from my lens! Those things are sharp enough to cut glass!" Because Crudup has really nice cheekbones.

So if you're looking for a film with violets and sharp cheekbones and Cate Blanchett, Charlotte Gray would no doubt be your best bet, because I don't think there are any violets in Lord of the Rings. On the other hand, if you're looking for a film with chemistry between the lead characters, you'd probably be better off watching Lord of the Rings, because that Gandalf clearly has a thing for Frodo, whereas Cate and Billy just seem to be in a plot that necessitates that they fall in love, and so they do, pretty much out of obligation. You know, it's like "OK, I'm a pretty British woman and you're a handsome French man and there's a war on and we're both resistance fighters, so we should really get our freak on, in the classical sense of the term."

Still, in spite of its tired plot and obligatory romance, there's something charming about Charlotte Gray. I think it was the way it made war seem less like a brutal and inhuman practice that degrades all of us, and more like a great opportunity for dating. But then, that's what sappy romantic movies are all about.

Charlotte Gray
Rated NR
Director: Gillian Armstrong
Cast: Cate Blanchett, billy Crudup and Michael Gambon

More by James DiGiovanna


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