Gillian Armstrong ("Little Women") directs Cate Blanchett in a film that marks the first duff performance of the Australian actor's career. As the eponymous Charlotte, she looks a million dollars (unsuitably so for wartime), but she's also dour, tight-lipped and frequently on the verge of tears.
"Charlotte Gray" seduces with chocolate-box cinematography and a sweeping score, but that's all. As with the hyped film adaptation of "Captain Corelli's Mandolin", the journey from page to screen hasn't been smooth for Sebastian Faulks' bestseller.
Blanchett plays a shy Scottish woman who enters the French Resistance to find her missing beau, RAF pilot Peter Gregory (a miscast Penry-Jones). Her priorities change, however, when she befriends a fellow Resistance fighter Julien (Crudup), whilst lodging undercover - as 'Dominique' - with his father Levade (Gambon), the gruff guardian of two Jewish orphans.
Whilst the covert lifestyle ironically brings Charlotte out of herself, teaching her about compassion and friendship, she lacks the burning passion that the story craves, and on which the success of the book was based.
Unlike other wartime weepies such as "The English Patient", chances of Oscar-winning success are sabotaged by a sleepwalking heroine, and a dull script that fails to deliver knockout emotional punches. Consequently, moments flagged as 'poignant' hit a false note - like when Charlotte takes a letter to the orphans on a departing POW train.
Despite excellent performances from Crudup and Gambon, the heroine's character-building is so tediously serious we crave light relief which never materialises.
The film will attract audiences intent on comparing it with the book, but this 'woman-in-jeopardy' movie feels more like 'woman-in-apathy'. Stunning imagery aside, this isn't the crowd-pleaser many had hoped for.