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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

A Call to Spy (M) - 124 minutes

Virginia Hall (Sarah Megan Thomas) was the only civilian woman awarded the US Distinguished Service Cross in WWII.

Noor Inayat Khan (Radhika Atpe) has been commemorated as Britain’s first Muslim war hero. The French, too, honoured her bravery.

Inspired by truth, A Call to Spy is their story.

The pair was originally recruited by what was known as F Section – a special division of British intelligence – to act as spies at a time when civilian women in those roles was unheard of.

Specifically, F Section was looking to recruit members of the fairer sex who had lived in France, knew the language and were passionate about stopping Hitler.

It was an act of desperation as too many men were being “uncovered” in the field.

The movie is primarily centred around Hall.

The person charged with the recruitment of the women was Vera Atkins (Stana Katic), the assistant to the head of F Section, Colonel Maurice Buckmaster (Linus Roache). She and Buckmaster were also later honoured by the British and French.

Atkins was a Jewish woman of Romanian extraction desperate to gain British citizenship.

Hall – a US citizen with an enviable record in the Foreign Service, having worked in Italy, Turkey and France – wanted to become an American diplomat, but was constantly knocked back.

The reason the movie presents is her disability. She lost a leg in an accident.

Noor – a fast and accomplished morse code operator – was born in Russia to an American mother and an Indian father, who founded the Sufi order in the West. A pacifist, she was a descendant of hereditary nobles.

After undergoing training in sabotage and subversion, both were sent to France at different times.

Hall’s job was to build a resistance network and expand the opposition to Hitler.

To say that both put their lives at significant risk is an understatement as collaborators were everywhere.

The film showcases a number of their close calls ... and more.

It also highlights the pressure on and mistakes made by F Section.

While this was an important story to tell, I am afraid I found A Call to Spy fell short of my expectations.

That is primarily because I felt it lacked depth and was orientated more to melodrama rather than serious drama.

It is something I was aware of very early on and couldn’t shake as it developed, notwithstanding strong costume and set design.

Much has to do with the scripting by the film’s star, Sarah Megan Thomas, who also wrote the piece.

Don’t get me wrong, A Call to Spy has some shocking moments – especially in the third act – but, overall, it lacks the “weight” of the better war time movies.

The actors do the most they can with the dialogue they have been given, but I could tell they were acting.

To me, their characterisations were too single dimensional.

In short, if you struggle with belief, it is not surprising that a film doesn’t have the impact it might otherwise.

Rated M and directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher, A Call to Spy scores a 6 out of 10.


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