Liberté: A Call to Spy Image

Liberté: A Call to Spy

By Andy Howell | January 20, 2020

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.  

Liberté: A Call to Spy (2020)

Directed: Lydia Dean Pilcher

Written: Sarah Megan Thomas

Starring: Sarah Megan Thomas, Stania Katic, Radika Apte, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

Liberté: A Call to Spy Image

"…"...Noor Inayat Kahn—the first female wireless operator, and first British Muslim war hero...""

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  1. Jacki Gansch says:

    I have been writing to production studios, especially those owned by women, for years about doing films on these extraordinary women. You asked why more films haven’t been made about the women of the SOE, and I believe it’s because the files of the SOE were just opened up a few years back. Although, there were a few movies made over the years. Most notably, a British series called Wish Me Luck which was a character compilation and a distilled version of the actual events. Not bad, for what it was – a made for tv series made between 1988 and the early 90’s. But a fictional version when the reality would have been so much better.

    I do wish a series would be made about Vera Atkins and F-Section. After reading so many books and articles, my belief is that Vera worked with the enemy in order to get her brother’s family released. Not throughout the war; just long enough to assure their safety. But her actions compromised the Allies. I also believe that Francis Suttill (code name Prosper), who was the leader of the F-section Prosper Network, was ordered to scuttle the network and sacrifice the operatives as a diversion for Operation Overlord.

    Lots of intriguing stuff to investigate via many different films A recent film about Noor Inyat Khan was a very abridged version about a fascinating young woman of immense courage who was tortured beyond recognition for months and never broke. Her life should be told in its entirety, brief as it was.

    Anyway, I could write a book myself at this point. I just wanted to thank you for your piece and your opinions. I hope the dam bursts and we are flooded with movies and documentaries about the women saboteurs who helped win the war. There were 39 women in France alone, one in three of whom were murdered by the Gestapo. The men of the SOE lost one in four. And they knew going in that their would most certainly be lost or shortened.

  2. George B Snow says:

    I am eagerly awaiting this film. I love WWII films, and Ms Katic is an amazing actress! This is a subject that I feel has been overlooked for far too long, and redress is due. I will definitely be adding this film to my library of films as soon as it comes out on DVD!

  3. LInda Delsing says:

    I am such a fan of Stana Katic and know the indie work of her’s in For Lovers Only. Her Kate Beckett let us know what a strong beautiful woman is on Castle.

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