A Call To Spy

A Call To Spy introduces us to incredibly important people

Garry Llewellyn – The Silver Hedgehog

After a flick through films to put on my Cinema Paradiso list, I spotted ‘A Call To Spy’. I noticed it starred Stana Katic of Castle and Absentia fame (both a firm favourite of editor JJ).  So we decided to  sit down and watch a WW2 thriller, with an important story to tell.

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What Is A Call To Spy?

A Call To Spy is part spy thriller and part biopic, charting the early days of Britain’s new spy agency SOE – Special Operations Executive (we now know SOE as the Ministry of Intelligence).  Churchill had ordered SOE agents to “set Europe ablaze” through espionage, sabotage and building a resistance network across Europe.   In the early days of the SOE the agents were male, and England was losing male spies as fast as we could train them.  A radical rethink was needed, and the order was given recruit, train and send women into the field as spies. ‘A Call To Spy’ documents the first female spies: Vera Atkins, Noor Inayat Khan, and spymistress Virginia Hall. It shows us a glimpse of how stoic these women were and what they had to endure, for very little credit from their country.

The film is produced, written, and directed by Sarah Megan Thomas and stars not only Thomas, but also Stana Katic, Radhika Apte and Linus Roach. Inspired by the women’s story, Thomas has curated a screenplay from diligent research, talking with remaining family members to get accounts for real life events that have been woven into the film.



Trailer: A Call To Spy

Stand Out Casting

Sarah Megan Thomas as Virginia Hall

Until I watched ‘A Call To Spy’ I didn’t know anything about either Sarah Megan Thomas or Virginia Hall. As it turns out Thomas is an extremely capable actress, writer, and producer.

Virginia Hall is an American with dreams of becoming a diplomat only to be turned down due to having a wooden leg.  The newly formed SOE see an opportunity to use this brash American as the perfect spy and Virginia’s story begins.  Thomas’ portrayal shows a woman that must face the daily battle of the pain of having a wooden leg and the laser focused determination of succeeding where men had failed. Virginia Hall had a point to prove on so many levels.  Thomas is not afraid to let emotions and vulnerability play out on screen. A scene where Virginia mentally contemplates crossing the mountains whilst preparing her squeaky wooden leg is most poignant

Stana Katic as Vera Atkins

Watching the DVD extras its clear why Katic signed on to play Vera Atkins.  She is passionate about the story being told and this enthusiasm radiates from her performance.  Katic arrives on screen sporting a quintessential 1940’s accent. It is an accent full of elocution and seems quite over the top.  We found it quite amusing until her ‘funny accent’ is addressed in the film, and all becomes clear.

Pronounced elocution aside, Katic dominates the scenes that she is in.  Schooling spies, walking the tight rope between being subservient to the dominant men in power and rightfully pushing her own forthright agenda.  Katic’s performance of Vera Atkins nails a persona that became a role model to the other female recruits.

Radhika Apte as Noor Inayat Khan

Apte delivers as Noor Inayat Khan, a displaced princess of a forgotten land and pacifist by nature caught up in the hell of war.  Khan goes through so much in the film from starting out as determined, but timid and being put through a range of experiences that would break an average person.  Apte’s performance is assured and believable, bringing to the screen the emotions and experiences Khan is going through.

Linus Roache as Maurice Buckmaster

Buckmaster is your typical upper crust British officer reporting to those on the floor above. He does not overtly give the women a hard time, but you can sense a little hesitancy in his actions.  Roache plays the character just right, he could have gone more over the top but finds the right balance of assertiveness and steadfast dedication to the cause.  Roache also has an excellent on-screen relationship with Katic, and they play off each other very well.

A Call To Spy Production Values

Soundtrack / Score

Provided in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1and the surround track provides excellent ambience. Birds singing in the countryside to trains puffing at stations. The centre channel is mixed brilliantly with crisp clear dialogue

Lillie Rebecca McDonough is on composure duties and has created a measured score that reflects the film well. Its not bombastic or indeed rememberable, but it is a pleasure to listen to alongside the film.  Its orchestral tones do the job of enhancing the on-screen images very well.  Refreshingly I did not notice any other score influences. Super job.

If you wanted to listen to the score, unfortunately I have been unable locate it separately on a streaming service. I have however created a Spotify Playlist inspired by A Call To Spy

Picture

I watched ‘A Call To Spy’ on Blu-ray and the picture is good, slightly grainy in parts but nothing terrible.
Filmed using parts of Budapest for Paris, the attention to detail is spot on. From the highly obvious Nazi propaganda to the subtle nuances such as shop windows, anti-Nazi graffiti or the period costumes being used

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Thoughts On A Call To Spy

Cinema is at its best when telling the most amazing stories. Immersing the viewer into a world that they have never been a part of; educating, entertaining making us laugh, cry, and think. Sarah Megan Thomas has crafted a film that does exactly that.  A Call To Spy immerses the viewer in the throes of WW2 in war torn France and belligerent Britain.  It introduces us to incredibly important people.  It’s no exaggeration to say that the actions performed by this small group of women went on to influence the world for years to come after the war.  Their story has not been told to the masses and it’s a crying shame.  It’s not just about the people either, A Call To Spy highlights topics like anti-Semitism in Britain and the distrust of immigrants, it shows us glimpses of life in France under the Nazis and the trauma that the French locals had to live through. All incredibly important topics to talk about.

But for all the good it does the film does have a few issues. First it does not really figure out what it wants to be.  As a thriller it does not work, the pacing is odd.  As a biopic it kind of works, however its an ensemble film and screen time is rationed across all the main cast again causing pacing issues and expedited character development. We get a film that flicks between the UK and France, spending too little time in either.  This results in a jail break scene that starts off well and then loses momentum, so we watch a game of monopoly being played. I know what they were going for, but it misses the mark. In another scene a group of spies are almost captured, but you never feel that they are at risk. The 2 hours run time may seem long, but it is nowhere near enough to convey the journey this group of people endured. A bigger story has yet to be told.

Overall, the attention to detail that Sarah Megan Thomas has instilled on the production has to be acknowledged.  I enjoyed watching A Call To Spy, it has highlighted aspects of WW2, that I was unaware of, so on that level the film totally works.  It has also started conversations about Vera Atkins, Virginia Hall and Noor Inayat Khan. This helps to keep their memories alive. Whilst I was writing this review, I was told of some great memorials to the women and World War 2 podcast exploring key aspects of WW2 something I would never have come across on my own.

The Silver Hedgehog: Rating

The Script / Screenplay - 8
Casting - 10
Music / Score - 7
Visual Effects and Costumes - 10
Video Quality - 8

8.6

Recommended

Overall, the attention to detail that Sarah Megan Thomas has instilled on the production has to be acknowledged.

Find Out more about our ratings here

Review Extras…

Find Out More About Noor Inayat Khan

The Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust is a non-profit organisation that has been set up in the memory of WWII heroine, Noor Inayat Khan. We work to promote the message of peace, non-violence and religious and racial harmony, the principles Noor Inayat Khan stood for.

In 2012 HRH Princess Anne unveiled the memorial for Noor in Gordon Square, London, near the house where she lived and from where she left on her fatal mission. The memorial, by British sculptor Karen Newman, is the first for an Asian woman in Britain. It ensures that Noor’s sacrifice is not forgotten by future generations

End Credits

Age Rating PG-13

Release Date 2 Oct 2020

Director Lydia Dean Pilcher

Staring:
Sarah Megan Thomas as Virginia Hall
Stana Katic as Vera Atkins
Radhika Apte as Noor Inayat Khan
Linus Roache as Maurice Buckmaster
Rossif Sutherland as Dr. Chevain
Samuel Roukin as Christopher
Andrew Richardson as Alfonse
Laila Robins as Pirani
Marc Rissmann as Klaus Barbie
Mathilde Ollivier as Giselle

Runtime 2 hr 3 min

Editor for Silver Hedgehog JJ

Images IFC Films

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