Charlotte Gray (15)

Review by Simon Bell

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Interview with Cate Blanchett; Director's commentary; 'The Real Charlotte Grays' documentary; Interview with Gillian Armstrong; Deleted scenes.

BASED on the bestselling novel by Sebastian Faulks, but with some thoroughgoing shifts in tone and narrative, Charlotte Gray centres on a heroine joining the Second World War effort and falling in love.

Recruited to the Special Operations Executive, she requests to be sent to France as an undercover agent to trace her RAF pilot lover, shot down on a mission. There she's drawn to the struggle of those trying to liberate Vichy France from its Nazi clutches.

Ms Gray is posted to the remote but idyllic farm of a miserly and truculent old git, Levade (Michael Gambon - wasted, but seeming not to care anyway) whose son, Julien (Billy Crudup - as French as Cheddar but otherwise watchable) is a committed member of la résistance.

But it soon becomes clear her mission of espionage is second fiddle to her search for the dashing officer Gregory (Rupert Penry-Jones - a drip unworthy of risking life and limb).

Such a rare and remarkable role lies at the heart of this wartime romance and, of course, Cate Blanchett does it all the justice it deserves... and some.

An intelligent and daring woman also prone to susceptibility, Charlotte Gray transmogrifies into French Resistance fighter Dominique Gilbert with all the silkiness of her new Continental lingerie: It's an interpretation as expertly judged as Blanchett only can. She even manages, amongst a veritable wealth of laughable attempts at foreign cadence, a half-decent Scottish accent (although somebody more Scottish than me will have to tell you where in Scotland she's supposed to have been nurtured).

Not one of the supporting cast, meanwhile, manages anything nearing a Gallic vintage, instead lapsing into just another 'Allo 'Allo! (at one point, the script even allows for a "listen to me carefully").

Once again, the period atmosphere so discernible in Gillian Armstrong's previous literary adaptations My Brilliant Career (1979), Little Women (1994) and (earlier Blanchett-starrer) Oscar and Lucinda (1997) is strong.

Nevertheless, it can only go one way - and unfortunately, despite all the hard work of a few, it's the way of Captain Corelli's Mandolin.

For those who can stomach bad linguistics and fleeting moments of misdirection, however, this an old-fashioned love story with all the romance of an old movie.