Charlotte Gray is a 2001 British–Australian–German drama film directed by Gillian Armstrong and adapted from the novel of the same name by Sebastian Faulks. It is set in Vichy Franceduring World War II, and stars Cate Blanchett, James Fleet, Abigail Cruttenden, Rupert Penry-Jones and Billy Crudup.
The story is based on the exploits of SOE's female agents who worked with the French resistance within occupied France. (The character Charlotte Gray is based on operatives such as Pearl Cornioley, Nancy Wake, Odette Sansom and Violette Szabo).
In 1942, a young Scot, Charlotte Gray, travels to London to take a job as a medical receptionist for a Harley Street doctor. On the train, a man enters her compartment and chats with her, asking questions about her life and expressing interest that she is fluent in French. He gives her his card with the date, time and address of a book launch. Social life in London is in full swing and her friends convince her to go. She soon meets RAF Flight Lieutenant Peter Gregory, but is interrupted by Richard Cannerley, the older man from the train, who urges her to meet some of his acquaintances and asks her to contact him when she leaves.
The volatile nature of life at the time is epitomised when Charlotte and Peter quickly get involved. As they talk about the war and bravery, Charlotte confides that she thinks Cannerley wants her to try out for some secret organisation. Peter tells her not to get involved. With his leave over, he is to take part in operations over France for the next few weeks.
Charlotte joins the SOE and is seconded to First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) with the rank of Driver. She completes her initial training and is on leave when she learns that Gregory's plane has gone down and he is missing in action.
Charlotte signs up for operations in France and is dropped in with two men. She lands out of the zone, because of two boys on the ground playing with flashlights. They run away, half thinking she's an angel. Her mission is to complete a test run; a handover of some radio valves.
Her cover immediately is close to being blown, as the contact for the handover is taken by the police in front of her. Her main Resistance contact, Julien, reassigns her to act as a friend of his and housekeeper to his father, Levade, an aging and no longer inspired painter. He has taken in two Jewish children, André and Jacob, after their parents were arrested. As time progresses, the film reveals that the parents were deported to Poland, and the Vichy French government is cooperating in the steadily growing oppression of the Jews in France.
Gray participates in a resistance action of blowing up a train bearing tanks and armaments. The Nazis bring their own forces and tanks to the village, to crush the resistance in the area. Gray is told by her SOE contact that Gregory died after being shot down and she grieves for him. A Vichy official arrives from Paris to work with the Germans and local villagers to ensure the quota for a roundup of Jews is met.
The schoolmaster Renech follows Gray and learns that Levade is hiding the children. He threatens Gray with reporting the boys to the Nazis unless she agrees to become his "friend". That night, the Germans surprise Julien's group and kill them all.
Believing Charlotte betrayed them, he confronts her the next day at his father's house. Soon afterward, the Germans, with Renech and the Vichy official, arrive at Levade's place. They ask for his papers and interview him about his Jewish ancestry (which Renech appears to have informed them about). Away from the main room, Renech threatens Julien, saying either his father or the boys must be given up.
Julien returns and states that his father and, thus he, has Jewish ancestry (his father's grandparents); his father understands that he is trying to protect the boys. The officials say that Julien does not qualify, as he has more French ancestry than his father. They take Levade to the prison camp/transfer station, where people are being gathered for deportation to camps in eastern Europe.
Renech betrays the boys anyway, and they are captured by the Nazis, with Charlotte failing to intercept them. Julien locates Renech and murders him in retaliation. He then decides to go to southern France and perhaps escape to fight elsewhere. He asks Charlotte to go with him, but she says she has to stay.
Evading French police, she types a letter and takes it to the station where Jews are being loaded into cattle cars. People from the village run alongside the cars, searching for their loved ones. Hearing the boys and Levade, she pushes the paper between the boards of their train car. Levade reads what is revealed as a letter ostensibly from the boys' parents, encouraging them and reminding them of their parents' love. Charlotte leaves France through a pickup by the SOE.
After the end of the war, she is contacted in London by Peter Gregory, who had been in hiding but survived being shot down. She says things have changed; she grieved for him but can't return to their relationship.
At the end of the film, Charlotte returns to France and to Julien at his countryside homestead, where she approaches him, and reminds him that she has forgotten to tell him something ~ to reveal her name, Charlotte Gray.
Though the film suggests Julien's father and the boys are doomed, the book is explicit that they die in a concentration camp.
- Cate Blanchett as Charlotte Gray
- James Fleet as Richard Cannerley
- Abigail Cruttenden as Daisy
- Rupert Penry-Jones as Peter Gregory
- Billy Crudup as Julien Levade
- Michael Gambon as Levade
- Anton Lesser as Renech
- Ron Cook as Mirabel
Charlotte Gray grossed AUD 4,188,497 at the box office in Australia, USD 1,886,566 in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and only USD 741,394 in the United States, where it had a very limited release (widest release was 52 cinemas). The film was not commercially successful for FilmFour. Its financial failure led to a subsequent restructuring and reduction at the production company