A Call to Spy Movie Review: An engrossing story on the women spies of WWII
A lovely homage to the women whose sacrifices needed to be told
The word ‘war’ usually conjures up images of uniformed men fighting with weapons. But what about the women who took as much, or more, risk as their male counterparts and fought for their countries in their own ways? Till the end of World War I, women’s contribution to war efforts were limited to cooking, laundry, providing first aid in war zones, and indirect services such as working in farms and munition factories to replace men drafted to the army. It was during WWII that women got into active warfare, and even in our shores, the Indian National Army established India's first all-women regiment to fight for our independence. Amazon Prime Video’s latest film, however, is not the story of female soldiers who risked their lives behind enemy lines. A Call to Spy is a true story based on the trials and tribulations of three women who worked as spies in Winston Churchill's secret army.
Director: Lydia Dean Pilcher
Cast: Sarah Megan Thomas, Stana Katic, Radhika Apte
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
In the initial days of WWII, France falls, and with the Germans having the upper hand, Churchill comes up with a new spy agency named Special Operations Executive. The Jewish ‘spymistress’ Vera Atkins (Stana Katic), recruits Virginia Hall (Sarah Megan Thomas), an American with a prosthetic foot striving to be a diplomat, and Noor Khan (Radhika Apte), an Indian Muslim pacifist and a princess. Their mission, labelled as 'ungentlemanly warfare', is to aid the already existing network of spies in France and get the right intel. The three embark on a journey to serve their country and in due course, break a system that rarely gave them attention, let alone allowed them to be treated as equals to their male counterparts.
A Call to Spy portrays the struggle of those who went beyond the call of duty and many more who supported these people even if it meant putting their own lives on the line. And if that’s not enough, the women have to fight red-tapism, antisemitic bosses, and sadly, but not surprisingly, sexism that ranges the spectrum — in one scene, a senior of Atkins, when she’s on the verge of recruiting spies, asks her to “make sure they're pretty,” and in another scene, Hall’s male colleague fails to abide by her plan just because she’s a woman. The three women go about their adventures on their own with no one to support them for the most part. It’s when they actually come together, in a handful of scenes, that the film steers away from being a thriller to an endearing drama.
In her very first solo direction venture, Lydia Dean Pilcher takes a piece of history that’s far away from the tried and tested WWII stories and shows an extremely realistic portrayal of spies without indulging in the usual tropes of the genre. Sarah Megan Thomas, who has the meatiest role among the trio, has also penned the story after years of research. What I loved about A Call to Spy is that it never gets over-ambitious. Instead of going anywhere near the more dramatic incidents of the war, it sticks to the lives of those who were just a bunch of cogs in the allied forces.
The pragmatic approach towards storytelling, backed by the beautiful performances, makes us want to know more about these three women. Though the runtime does an acceptable job of introducing them, we’re left wishing that there was more time to flesh out the characters which would’ve made some of the powerful lines and scenes more hard-hitting. I really wish this had been a series rather than a 124-minute film. That said, thanks to a stellar cast and a sensible script, A Call to Spy is a lovely homage to the women whose sacrifices needed to be told.