At a time when a united front against perceived evil hasn’t been so strong since the ’40s, this WWII saga of an English woman’s selfless acts of courage against the Nazis in occupied France could strike a chord with Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters hungry for an inspiring movie of historic verisimilitude.
Based on the acclaimed novel by Sebastian Faulks, “Charlotte Gray” reunites director Gillian Armstrong with her “Oscar and Lucinda” star and fellow Aussie Cate Blanchett. Armstrong provided Blanchett with her first lead in a feature, delivering an Australian Film Institute nomination in the process, and has long been associated with mature, grown-up films with complex female protagonists. Witness her work with Judy Davis (“My Brilliant Career,” “High Tide”) and in such films as “Mrs. Soffel,” the under-regarded “Last Days of Chez Nous” and the critically acclaimed “Little Women.”
Armstrong’s never having been nominated for an Oscar might have more to do with her refusal to emphasize style over substance, and her propensity for character-driven dramas that favor timeless themes over trendy subject matter.
For her part, Blanchett — one of the most prolific A-list actors of the past year — has proved that she can carry a film (her Oscar-nominated role as “Elizabeth”) and rise above the material she’s given (“The Gift”). She also has mastered the ability to disappear into her roles like nobody since Meryl Streep, who reaped Oscar attention with virtually every film she appeared in during the ’70s and ’80s. And while Blanchett will have appeared in five films before the year is out, her role as a civilian recruited by British special operations to spy for the French Resistance allows her to take center stage and display the intelligence, dignity and fortitude for which she’s become known.
The film features all the elements that Oscar traditionally favors: literary pedigree, historic sweep, conflicted romance, serious tone and world-class actors. Blanchett is in prestigious company, including fellow stage-trained thesps Billy Crudup, who plays a fanatical resistance fighter and budding love interest, and Michael Gambon, who plays Crudup’s cynical father.
Jeremy Brock, who wrote the adaptation, earned a British Academy of Film & Television Arts nom for his screenplay “Mrs Brown,” while composer Stephen Warbeck and costumer Janty Yates are both Oscar winners (“Shakespeare in Love” and “Gladiator,” respectively).
- Picture: producers Sarah Curtis, Douglas Rae
- Director: Gillian Armstrong
- Actress: Cate Blanchett
- Supporting actor: Michael Gambon
- Cinematography: Dion Beebe
- Music: Stephen Warbeck
- Costumes: Janty Yates