Women at War (Les combattantes), heroic French women in WWI

Audrey Fleurot, Sofia Essaïdi, Julie De Bona, and Camille Lou in Women at War

Women at War (Les combattantes) puts the efforts and heroism of French women at the center of this story set in 1914 France as the Germans invaded France. Four popular actresses lead the cast.

Women at War (Les combattantes) goes full out melodrama with heart-tugging orchestration, sentimental scenes and plenty of opportunities for the women to prove themselves. Every main character has a love story of one kind or another.

Set in a small town near the fighting, the locations include a truck factory, a brothel, and a large convent converted to a hospital.

Meet the Women

I’ll give you a few details about the 4 main characters without too many spoilers.

Audrey Fleurot, Sofia Essaïdi, Julie De Bona, and Camille Lou in Women at War

Marguerite (Audrey Fleurot) arrives in town to work in a brothel. She spends a lot of time away from the brothel spying on a young soldier named Colin (Maxence Danet-Fauvel). She has history with the brother and sister running the brothel that doesn’t always work in her favor.

Caroline (Sofia Essaïdi) is married to a man who runs a truck factory. When he leaves for the fighting she is put in charge of the business. She has a young daughter, an evil brother-in-law, and a mother-in-law (Sandrine Bonnaire) we don’t know whether to love or hate. Caroline converts the trucks to ambulances and many women become ambulance drivers.

When Marguerite and Caroline see each other on the street accidentally for the first time, it’s clear they have a connection from the past – probably a romantic one.

Agnès (Julie De Bona) is the Mother Superior at the convent. She opens up the convent to care for the many wounded soldiers. She’s dealing with many issues besides the nursing needs around her.

Suzanne (Camille Lou) is the fourth main character. She arrives at the convent under a false name with a Paris cop chasing her. A doctor named Joseph (Tom Leeb) is the only surgeon. Suzanne’s a skilled nurse and budding surgeon who immediately becomes a crucial help for Joseph.

The Germans are Coming!

With many battle scenes, spies, backstabbing subplots, people falling in love, and parents protecting their children, there’s plenty going on in the 8 episodes of this limited series. The story doesn’t go beyond 1914, so we don’t know how most the the characters lives turned out as the war went on.

Overall the series definitely makes heroes of the women characters. A tribute to the women of France is included at the end. However, I found the series frequently overblown and realistically unlikely. There were many tropes used to tell the story when a more complex development of the characters would have been welcome. Even so, I was invested enough in the tale to watch it all with interest.

By the way, if you noticed a similarity in the cast and the publicity photos for this series and The Bonfire of Destiny, it’s because Alexandre Laurent directed them both. If you liked the first one, also based loosely on a real event, you’ll probably enjoy seeing some of the same actors and story style in this series.

You can see this series on Netflix.

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