A Call to Spy tells the true story of 3 women who worked out of England as part of a spy network during World War II. They were brave and inspiring women whose efforts made a difference in how the war ended. The women were spies in France and helped organize the French Resistance. The film is available to rent from Amazon Prime Video.
A Call to Spy tells the story of Virginia Hall (Sarah Megan Thomas), an American woman who wanted to be a diplomat. She had a wooden prosthetic leg and, was, of course, a woman. Both those held her back from the diplomatic corps. She worked her way into the spying job when the war started. She was brilliant at it. She organized hundreds of French citizens into small cells as part of the resistance and was a big influence on the outcome of the war.
Vera Atkins (Stana Katic) was a Jewish woman and not an English citizen either. She was waiting for her citizenship papers. She was a clerk who joined Maurice Buckmaster (Linus Roache) in the formation of the F section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). They had absolutely no experience with spy networks and made all sorts of mistakes that cost lives. They also did a lot of things that saved lives. Vera Atkins worked in England, recruiting women and training them. It’s worth reading her obit in the NYTimes from when she died in 2000.
Finally, there was Noor Inayat Khan (Radhika Apte), a Muslim pacifist and an actual princess. She became a wireless operator and was the best in England at it. She was the first woman wireless operator sent to France. She undertook the most dangerous job, because the Germans knew how to trace down the wireless signals to their source. She had to move constantly once she was in France. Back in England, a large group of women were trained to operate wireless transmitters. Many of them died at the hands of the Germans.
The film caught my eye because of some of my recent reading. I read A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII a while back. I just finished reading A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II. That one is about Virginia Hall. There’s a book I haven’t read, but want to, called Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan. (Affiliate links) Each of these women have been the subject of numerous books, films, and television shows.
Based on what I learned reading the first two books, I can see that the film is mostly accurate but the women’s exploits are conflated and abbreviated. For example, I don’t think Noor ever served in Lyon with Virginia.
Telling all three stories together in the film was an effective decision in terms of exciting and visual movie making. It put the story in several places at once and showed the stakes in terms of human lives. It made sense because the women were all part of the British spy networks out of the SOE. The film was written by its star, Sarah Megan Thomas. The director was Lydia Dean Pilcher.
No situation is more fraught and dangerous than war. The film demonstrated that in brilliant and graphic detail. The costumes and settings were perfect.
A lot of the dialog that should have been in French or German was in English. But some of it was French and German. I would have preferred the more authentic feel of the speakers actual language, but I know the need for subtitles discourages some people.
I loved a quote, which was used twice in the film. It’s so beautiful I looked it up. It’s from Rumi. “Don’t you know yet? It is your light that lights the world.” It’s good to remember the courageous and dedicated people who were willing to put their lives on the line to defeat the Nazis. Especially when some of the most important people among them were women. They helped light the world. Let’s keep the light shining.
Here’s a look at the trailer.
If you like stories about real women who kick butt, A Call to Spy is a good one.