Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Last week, I reviewed the latest film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. The talk of Bath prompted Anne to share her account of a day in Bath, complete with visiting sites associated with her ancestors. Tina liked I, Mona Lisa by British author Natasha Solomons and looks forward to reading more of her work.
This topic has fascinated me for years. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is one of my favorite novels of all time. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, more recently, told a deep story of female spies in World War I that also highlighted some activity in the second World War.
A Call to Spy focuses on three women, all historical figures.
Vera Atkins was born of Jewish parents in Romania. Her gender, nationality, and heritage all made her a bit suspect for Special Operations in the UK. Her family had connections with the diplomatic set in Bucharest that helped with getting herself and her mother to London as things worsened for Jews in Europe. She started as a secretary in the French section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), working her way to indispensability — even when her job title lagged behind her skill set.
Virginia Hall, an American, was the first female spy sent to France for an extended time by the SOE. She worked as a consular clerk in various embassies in Europe during the 1930s, expecting to be promoted to diplomat but her gender and a prosthetic leg held her back. She joined SOE in April 1941, several months before America was in the war.
Noor Inayat Khan was a British agent with Indian ancestry, raised in Sufism (a mystic religious practice within Islam). She grew up in London and Paris, returning to England when the Nazis invaded France. She was trained as a radio operator for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). Later, she was recruited by the SOE and became the first female wireless operator in Nazi-occupied territory.
A Call to Spy works for British Isles Friday because many of the scenes take place in London where the women were recruited and trained and, later, monitored by the SOE. There were no filming locations in England, however. Philadelphia and Budapest stood in for the various locations in England and France.
We loved learning the history of these three women and of the SOE in France more generally. We were less impressed by the movie. It seemed to be trying to tell too much story in its 124 minutes.
In the end, I agree with the Critic Consensus statement on Rotten Tomatoes:
A Call to Spy overcomes a surprising lack of tension with an overall engaging tribute to an oft-overlooked group of World War II heroes.
Sarah Megan Thomas wrote and produced this film as well as playing the role of Virginia Hall. According to this interview published in Pique magazine, she did a lot of research. I’d sure love to read a book about these women.
Wikipedia says that Vera Atkins inspired characters in two recent novels: The Paris Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal and The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff. So, I might try those.
There have been several biographies of Virginia Hall, including A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell which is reportedly being turned into a movie.
The film rights for the biography Spy Princess: The life of Noor Inayat Khan by Shrabani Basu have also been sold.
Perhaps, we have more movies to look forward to.
We watched A Call to Spy, streaming, on Netflix. Have you seen this movie? What did you think?