During World War II, the Allies needed to gain ground against the German march through Europe. Under Winston Churchill’s watch, Britain formed the Special Operations Executive, an intelligence cell to gather on-ground information on the Nazis. The SEO identified regular women with patriotic zeal and various skills and trained them to become wireless operators and double agents.
Lydia Dean Pilcher’s A Call To Spy, based on true events, unfolds between 1941 and 1944. The story follows three exceptionally committed women whose experiences present moving and interesting perspectives of the ground reality during the German occupation of France. The war leaves no one unscathed, certainly not Virginia Hall (played by Sarah Megan Thomas, who also serves as the writer and producer) or Noor Inayat Khan (Radhika Apte), a pacifist of Indian and American descent.
They are sent into France as spies for the Allies. Back in London, Vera Atkins (Stana Katic) is monitoring, coordinating, recruiting and training women for this one-way mission. She’s also grappling with own insecurities regarding trust and nationality.
The research reflects in the careful art direction and production design, but the erratic cutting and impassive pace erodes the sense of urgency surrounding the dangerous situation. An exploration of the duality of a spy’s life is also missing.
Pilcher keeps the scenes intimate and the palette bleak as we follow Khan and Hall, famed for having a prosthetic leg nicknamed “Cuthbert”. Thomas, Apte and Katic are all equally impressive as women surmounting sexism, prejudice and disability. Their courage and commitment are central to the film’s theme.
At 123 minutes, the narrative misses out on building suspense, but the emotional core of the story and the fascinating individuals keep the viewer curious.