At last, a World War II heroine! In the recent deluge of films about "the Good War," women have been relegated to playing weepy mums, pinup love interests or (at best) nurses. Now we have Scottish Charlotte Gray (Cate Blanchett, appealing as always), an agent with the British Special Operation Executive -- a group of everyday blokes and birds trained to wreak havoc on the Nazis anywhere and in any way they can.
In this vast improvement on Sebastian Faulks' novel (credit Jeremy Brock's screenplay and Gillian Armstrong's typically detailed direction), Charlotte's decision to join up is as much a matter of duty and patriotism as an effort to track down her missing boyfriend, a member of the Royal Air Force. Sent to France as an undercover courier, she quickly discovers the perilous edge on which Resistance fighters live when she gets drawn into a struggle led by Julian Lavade (a soulful Billy Crudup) and his disapproving father, Levarde (the stalwart Michael Gambon). Neither an action-packed thriller nor a gory soldier's tale, "Charlotte Gray" compellingly depicts the hazards faced by ordinary people when hell breaks loose.