Show name: A Call to Spy
Release date: 2019
Genre: Spy Thriller
Starring: Stana Katic, Linus Roache
Written by: Sarah Megan Thomas
Studio: SMT Pictures
Length: 124 minutes
For too long after World War Two the stories of heroes involved men with action roles and women, if present at all, appearing as wives and mothers.
Fit to grieve, but not fit to serve?
Thank goodness that has changed on screen in recent years.
Women served in many auxiliary units during the war. They also served as spies.
The training and deployment of female spies by the UK in World War Two is the central focus of A Call to Spy.
The film is based on real stories but isn’t a strictly historically accurate portrait of events.
There has been quite a bit of dramatic interpretation.
Vera Atkins (Stana Katic) is secretary to Maurice Buckmaster (Linus Roche). They work for the new Special Operations Executive.
Vera is tasked with recruiting female spies. She picks American Virginia Hall (Sarah Megan Thomas) and Noor Inayat Khan (Radhika Apte).
Virginia longs to be a diplomat at a time when only men did that job. Noor is a princess hoping to serve her country beyond transcribing wireless messages.
Both come through the training successfully and are landed in France.
Morale is low, the German hand is tightening on the local population and British spy rings keep getting infiltrated.
Virginia’s cover is as a journalist for an American newspaper, and her mission is to filter back details of everyday life in occupied France.
Ordering alcohol on a Sunday when the regulations have just changed gets her in trouble straightaway.
Noor is a wireless operator. They have to find safe places to send messages back to England at great personal risk.
Virginia’s leadership role is one she excels at, but when America enters the war she must be given a different cover story and new appearance.
Noor is initially serving with Virginia, but she is then transferred to Paris. When her safehouse is compromised, she is forced to sleep on the streets, carrying her wireless with her wherever she goes.
Meanwhile, Vera is subject to constant undermining in her work due to gossip about her Jewish heritage and Romanian upbringing. She was a brave character, but the decision to send spies into action at great risk was a moral one which weighed heavily.
This gave Vera plenty of dramatic depth, and I was as fascinated by her situation as I was by that of Virginia and Noor.
There was plenty of action and constant danger, which gave A Call to Spy plenty of narrative tension.
Blown covers, double agents and a perpetual risk of discovery made this a tense film to watch even though the plot was quite straightforward.
There were many twists and turns due to these risks, but also plenty of space to concentrate on the psychology of serving as a spy after comparatively little training.
I loved A Call to Spy. The story of female spies has on the big screen often been inappropriately sexualised in the past, but this film was a breath of fresh air.
Noor and Virginia were courageous and resourceful, and both were willing to die if necessary. Given that one third of the spies sent out by SOE perished in the field, this was no idle boast.
Thank you for reading my review.
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