Liberté: A Call to Spy tells the gripping WWII story of women hurriedly trained as spies by Great Britain and sent to France as it was being occupied by Germany. It is based on the true stories of women who risked their lives to organize units of rebellion, transmit secret messages, and engage in acts of sabotage.
In all the hundreds of World War II movies, why haven’t there been any movies primarily about ladies as spies? If this were Twitter, someone would Tweet: “Raise your hand if you know why.” Does the male domination in Hollywood play a role in these stories, not getting out there? I’m sure it does. The stories of these women are well documented—Vera Atkins, the British intelligence officer, and code-breaker who helped train the women carefully documented their stories, including after the war personally investigated the fates of the third of agents who went missing or died. The most famous, Virginia Hall, was a well-decorated American CIA officer with a wooden leg, about whom a plethora of books has been written. And it isn’t as if the stories aren’t cinematic—the women faced overwhelming odds, dire situations, and if they didn’t die themselves, they faced the threat of death and capture constantly. About a third of the women were killed in the line of duty.
“…the true stories of women who risked their lives to organize units of rebellion, transmit secret messages, and engage in acts of sabotage.”
Notably, this movie wasn’t made within the Hollywood studio system—it was done independently. Sarah Megan Thomas, who stars as Virginia Hall, wrote the screenplay herself and produced the film. She hired Lydia Dean Pilcher to direct, who had previously directed Radium Girls and Reno Finds Her Mom, though she’s also produced over 40 movies. The two called in favors and made the film in Budapest to produce it on an indie budget. I don’t know what the budget was, but it really doesn’t matter—it is just as immersive as one of the higher budget BBC productions, with period costumes, sets, cars, trains, and even airplanes galore.
The film focuses on Virginia Hall—her training, the hurdles she faced, and one of her stints in France where she built up a spy and resistance network. We periodically cut back to London, where we follow the struggles of Vera Atkins (Stana Katic), who helped train and organize the spies as she faces doubt about her abilities, and struggles with setbacks and losing agents. One liberty the filmmakers took was setting the story of Noor Inayat Kahn (Radika Apte)—the first female wireless operator, and first British Muslim war hero—simultaneously with that of Virginia when in reality, the stories depicted happened out of phase. This is a fine cheat for narrative expedience.