Charlotte review | Keira Knightley voices Jewish painter Charlotte Salomon

Keira Knightley gives voice to Charlotte Salomon, a German-Jewish artist who was murdered in Auschwitz. Read our review. 



Animation has always been ideal for stories about art. You’re able to bring art to life in a whole different way, which is probably why films such as Loving Vincent went with animation to tell the story of a remarkable artist. 

It’s a shame that Charlotte, a portrait of Charlotte Salomon, a German Jewish painter, mostly wastes its medium. This is a gentle film, even when covering some tough topics, but it also sorely lacks imagination. 

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Many consider Salomon, the artist behind the very first graphic novel. Her collection of works, titled Life? or Theatre?, which can currently be found in the Jewish Historical Museum of Amsterdam, were vivid and rich, but such richness is nowhere to be found in Charlotte


Credit: Parkland Distribution

Charlotte is the daughter of a renowned singer and a doctor, but as World War II looms, she is sent to live with her grandparents in France. Charlotte’s art blooms while in France, even if she is struck by personal tragedies. She meets handsome suitors and comes of age; she experiences life, which inspires her to paint more. 

We know how the story ends, and the film, directed by Éric Warin and Tahir Rana, doesn’t bother putting us through the most tragic aspects of her life. It’s a kind, perhaps even a necessary, choice to spare us from seeing her eventual death at the hands of Nazis, but the film also waters down her relationship with her grandfather. 

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What has been revealed as a deeply toxic and cruel relationship comes across as mildly unpleasant here. Charlotte rushes through the painter’s formative years with speed, but we’re not gaining much from it. The film almost treats her coming of age as a list of bullet points; lovers, death, moving locations, everything is covered, but nothing seems to stick. 

The film also desperately wants to explore hereditary mental illness but can’t seem to decide how to approach it in a film like this. Charlotte wants to be joyous and celebrate life, but tragedy was so ingrained in Salomon’s life, it’s hard to buy into the visual style of the film. 

Charlotte train

Credit: Parkland Distribution

The animation, made up of thick lines and pastel colours, leaves much to be desired. There’s a disconnection between the style and the story, and Charlotte never feels cohesive. All the film’s elements are at war with each other, and the end result is a dull and thematically incoherent mess. 

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Keira Knightley provides a sweet voice for Charlotte, but her vocal performance lacks nuance or any specifics. This is probably because Knightley recorded her lines before the animation was done, leaving her with no visual references to base her tone on. It makes Charlotte herself seem flat and lifeless, even with Knightley’s best efforts to inject her with a hunger for life.

Jim Broadbent’s booming voice seems perfect for Charlotte’s grandfather, and Sophie Okonedo is sweet as Ottilie Moore, who offers her villa to Charlotte and her grandparents to stay in.

Charlotte tells a vital, urgent story, but it tells it in all the wrong ways. It lacks focus, and we never really learn much about Charlotte herself. There is no insight to be found here. The attempt to be respectful results in a lacklustre, meaningless film. 

Charlotte is released in cinemas 9 December.

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