by Nick L’Barrow
Inspired by true events, A Call To Spy is the story of the women who had a profound impact on WWII as part of the Special Operation Executive (or SOE for short). In a time during the war where Britain became desperate, Winston Churchill created an all-new spy agency where for the first-time women were recruited and trained as spies in order to conduct sabotage missions and create a new resistance against the Nazi’s in France.
Sarah Megan Thomas (screenwriter and the lead actress playing Virginia Hall) spent years researching the SOE and the true stories of the women involved in leading the charge for Britain in France. Reading historical accounts, records and interviewing surviving family members, Thomas has constructed an intriguing story that will surely inspire audiences worldwide.
Thomas’ script focuses on Virginia Hall, a Jewish-practicing American with a wooden leg, and Noor Inayat Khan (Radhika Apte), an Indian-Muslim pacifist, who are both chosen from the first wave of amateur SOE recruits to be secretly sent into France to infiltrate a small Nazi regime. A Call To Spy uses a familiar set up for the characters, seeing them go through the basic training and mission debriefs before quickly throwing the audience into the France-based action. While the movie doesn’t waste time heading into the excitement, thrills and drama that come with the characters being launched directly into the war, it doesn’t allow an immediate emotional investment into who these people are, and feels slightly surface level as to why we should care about what they’re fighting for (even though, yes, they are fighting to end the largest world war ever, the stakes early on don’t derive from that).
However, Thomas’ screenplay, along with a very personal shift in direction from Lydia Dean Pitcher, the story then takes time in the second act to focus on the personalities and relationship between Hall and Khan, which is where the movie shines the most. This is where a stronger element of personality and care for the protagonists comes into play, and where the emotional stakes of their missions become more apparent. The performances from both Thomas and Apte add another stronger layer to the characters, both without a doubt showing their shared passion for the story and the real-life characters they are portraying respectively.
A Call To Spy’s story does feel like a mixture of several true stories condensed into one larger tale that is full of what is to be expected from a war-time espionage film. There are tense, undercover infiltration scenes, brutal interrogations by heightened takes on German soldiers and plenty of war room debriefs. Altogether, a lot happens over the 2-hour runtime of this feature, and moments and scenes can occasionally blend in together a little too much to completely be fully immersed into the ‘reality’ of wartime France. There is still intrigue into the tension the story does create, there is just a muddled nature to the story’s cohesiveness.
A Call To Spy tells a fascinating and personal story about the women who played an integral part in Churchill’s plans to end the war. Even when it feels slightly muddled and familiar, the two lead performances and a passionate screenplay pull through for a story worth investing in.
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