October 22, 2020
Exploring the cultural sexism meted out to Women during the second world war, this drama based on real people avoids cliche
A Call to Spy review – meticulous depiction of female war-time agents
‘Make sure they’re pretty,” a bespectacled Special Operations Executive wonk tells Vera Atkins, the Romanian born “spymistress” (played by Stana Katic) charged with building a network of French-speaking female undercover operatives in the early days of the second world war. Written by Sarah Megan Thomas and directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher, this is a righteously conceived drama designed to highlight the smothering sexism that greeted women’s contributions to the war effort, in particular anything that smacked of ambition above lowly clerical grades.
A Call to Spy zeroes in on two of Atkins’ real-life recruits, and takes its time spelling out their individual stories. Virginia Hall (played by writer Thomas) is an American embassy worker with a prosthetic foot seething at being denied a career as a diplomat, and Noor Inayat Khan (Radhika Apte), a wireless operator and daughter of an Indian Sufi mystic, who has to contend with her pacifist inclinations to join the mission. Hall is the first to go into action, dropped into Vichy France to contact agents and help get them out. Khan is sent out to join her, underprepared but with a vital specialism in signals; once on the ground, she has to keep permanently on the move as illegal radio transmissions can be traced. Hall makes her way to Lyon where she organises attacks and assists agents as they pass through; Khan heads to Paris where, as history records, disaster awaits.
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