This based-on-a-true-story WWII drama centers on three women in a British spy agency you probably never heard of – the SOE, Special Operations Executive. Early in the war, it was set up to recruit women to enter Nazi-occupied France, send back intelligence, and build the resistance. Churchill figured that women could move around more inconspicuously than men. In the film Vera Atkins (Stana Katic, “Castle”) a secretary of the SOE is in charge of recruitment and selects two women to send abroad – Virginia Hall (Sarah Megan Thomas), an American woman with a wooden leg who’s been turned down for the US diplomatic corps, and Noor Inayat Khan (Radhika Atpe), a Muslim pacifist who’s a crack wireless operator. They both distinguished themselves, so much so in Hall’s case that Klaus Barbie gave orders to hunt her down.
The film juggles the three story lines. The most fully explored and most exciting is that of Virginia Hall. Placed in Lyon, France, with a cover story that she’s an American journalist, she blends right in and does her work, that is until the US enters the war and her American background puts a target on her back. Then she uses her French, dyes her hair and continues. She’s intrepid and frequently in grave danger, especially once Barbie hears all about her from a double agent. Noor Inayat Khan is less daring, though her work puts her in danger again and again as the Nazis triangulate her signal. But she stays a step ahead of them most of the time. Vera Atkins’s story is of a Jewish immigrant in England who’s capable, but hindered by the anti-Semitism that pervades British society, keeping her from getting citizenship papers even as she’s managing a complex intelligence program.
The film has some moments of high tension, but never really rises to the material. I wonder if had they focused on only one of the women it would have been stronger. I am glad to know about these brave women though. All of them were highly decorated after the war for their work. And it’s a welcomed change to see a WWII story where women are the heroes. Sarah Megan Thomas is particularly good as Hall. It’s definitely a #girlpower story. So put it in the queue to watch with your gal pals when you need some inspiration.
In select theaters and VOD.
[Mainstream Chick’s take: I agree with Arty Chick. This is an interesting story about women worth knowing about. But, as noted in the end credits, “A Call to Spy” is a work of historical fiction, inspired by the lives of real people. “Events and relationships were created or altered for dramatic effects.” That statement is a bit ironic since it could have used a stronger infusion of drama. Still, I appreciate the #girlpower and the reminder of why we resist, and why we can never let our guard down in the face of evil or mass ignorance. -hb]