Film review – A call to spy

After a hard week, like many others, I turned Netflix on. My aim was to find a light-hearted film that I could escape into. A film that meant I didn’t have to think too hard. In spite of my aim, up popped the film “A Call to Spy”, and something about it caught my eye. This film is about the forgotten women who fought for freedom.

This film is based on real 2nd World War events and features the incredible bravery and determination of 3 main women. One of the women, Romanian and Jewish by birth, recruited female spies to the British. Her position within the Special Operations Executive (SEO) lead her to recruit women to go undercover and spy in Europe. Another woman, American by birth, and with a wooden leg. The third a talented, Indian Muslim woman.

Not only did these women become key agents in the war efforts, they did not fit the hyped-up James Bond type of spy. Happily as difficult a topic as, A Call to Spy, is, this film was honest, even if it only touched on many important issues.

Women leading the way

Ultimately, we are celebrating the film, A Call to Spy, because women wrote, produced and directed it. Not only are all the stars female, unlike other female-based films, they are strong, brave and determined characters. The plot is not based on romance but on their contribution to stopping the atrocities of the war.

The SEO trained the women in the more gruesome aspects of war. This included killing and even taking their own lives, if necessary. The world of spying and espionage is new to each of the characters and yet they embrace it to help and risk their lives for others.

During the War, they operated within France, with people, who they don’t know if they could trust or not. The equipment they needed was heavy, the dangers from Nazi collaborators were great.

Not a blockbuster

If you are expecting a dazzling, all singing and dancing American style blockbuster this is not the film for you. I’d have liked to know more about each of the women but there was not the time or space within the story. Since watching I have read about all three women, who in their own right have some incredible stories. Perhaps the goal of the film was to inspire curiosity and encourage us to find out more about women like these.

There are times when I feel like there could have been more focus on the fear and pain the women experienced. However, I accept, that again, there were probably constraints within the film which prevented this.

A woman not beaten by her disability

American born, Virginia Hall, studied in France, Germany and Austria before becoming a consular service clerk for the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland in 1931. Two years later, while on a hunting trip in Turkey, she tripped and shot herself in the foot. Doctors amputated her leg below the knee and replaced it with “Cuthbert”, her wooden leg.

She desperately wanted to become a diplomat within the United States Foreign Service. Her gender and disability went against her, despite appeals to President Franklin Roosevelt. By 1941, she’d joined the SEO and they posted her to Vichy, France. When she went, she was only the second female agent that they sent. From her base in Lyon she carried out many operations to prevent the Nazis from taking hold. She escaped capture on many occasions and saved the lives of many men shot down by the Nazis. She, eventually, made her way back to England by escaping across the mountains to Spain. This must have been a exceedingly treacherous journey on foot, particularly with a heavy wooden leg and in snow. Again, the director could have made more of the hardships and pain Virginia must have suffered. In fact, a film purely about her would be perfect!

The person you need to know more about

Noor-un-Nissa Inayat Khan, known as Noor Baker had a talent for wireless operating. She had a fascinating history – born in Russia, into an Indian Muslim family. Her mother came from America. After the First World War the family moved to London and then in the 20s they lived in France.

Noor studied at the Sorbonne and was an accomplished musician and author. When the Germans invaded France the family escaped by boat to Cornwall.

Noor, a pacifist, decided to join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force where she trained as a wireless operator. She wanted to defeat the evils of the Nazi regime. She went to work for the SEO.

While working for the SEO, Vera Atkins, recruited Noor to work as a spy. She became the first female wireless operator sent to France. The SEO gave her the codename Madeleine and she helped the French resistance.

While lost in Paris, she came across an old friend, who allowed Noor into her home. Sadly, during this time, her friend’s husband betrayed her. The Nazis arrested her and sent her to Dachau concentration camp.

I really felt that Noor was not a natural spy and that she was far too kind and thoughtful. For me, the film missed the true reasons for her involvement in the war efforts. I don’t really believe she had “A Call to Spy”. Her role must have had a massive affect on her conscience. By the end, I felt the directors should have made more of why the SEO sent her. She was, clearly, the wrong sort of person, in the wrong environment. I would have preferred to see the dilemmas she faced from her religious and belief point of view. Then again, I would have liked to understand more about how hard it must have been for an Asian woman in this situation.

Recommendations

I’d definitely recommend watching the film, A Call to Spy, but definitely don’t stop there. It is so important that we understand the courage of more of the women who went to war and helped to prevent the evils that took place. I have discovered there are several books about the women too. I would now like a little time to read them – schools will be back in full swing soon!

Eventually, the women were recognised for their contributions to the war efforts. There were also questions over Vera Atkins skills and decisions. No-one can take away the efforts she went to at the end of the war to find out what happened to the spies.

So, yes, this is definitely a good way to spend a couple of hours.