A Call to Spy Parent Guide
Espionage is usually considered a man's world but this tense story of female spies in World War II deserves to be told.
Parent Movie Review
“Yours will be a lonely courage. It will change the course of the war.” With these words, two of Britain’s newest spies are prepared for their work behind enemy lines in France. And the British government desperately needs them to succeed. It’s 1941 and Great Britain stands alone. Nazi Germany has conquered most of continental Europe and Hitler has his eye on England.
Desperate to destabilize occupied Europe, Prime Minister Winston Churchill sets up the Special Operations Executive with a mission to acquire intelligence, build resistance, conduct sabotage, and “set Europe ablaze”. Vera Atkins has been put in charge of finding female operatives who will be able to operate inconspicuously in France. She comes up with her first two: Virginia Hall and Noor Inayat Khan.
Virginia is an American whose lifelong dream to become a diplomat has been rejected because she has a wooden leg. Nonetheless, her fierce intelligence, resourcefulness, and ironclad determination make her a prize recruit for the SOE.
The next potential spy seems less obvious. Noor Inayat Khan is bicultural and biracial, born in Russia to an Indian prince and an American. Noor is a Sufi Muslim and a pacifist; and author and musician. She is also a gifted radio operator, a skill desperately needed to maintain communication between London headquarters and agents in the field.
The two women are assigned to Lyon, in Vichy France. The Nazis are tightening their grip on this unoccupied portion of France, and the area is ripe for the kind of mischief the SOE plans. As the new spies go to work, they make history. But operating as a spy in the region overseen by Klaus Barbie, “the butcher of Lyon” is hazardous…
A Call to Spy is a fascinating film about a little known part of history. War stories usually focus on men with women’s contributions limited to the home front. But these women (who are historical figures) and the 37 other female spies run by Section F of the SOE, had an incalculable effect on the course of the war. It’s high time their stories were told.
Thankfully, this important story is competently retold in this film. It’s not a dazzling blockbuster movie but the production values are good, the pacing maintains plenty of knuckle-biting tension, and the acting is certainly adequate, if unremarkable. Director Lydia Dean Pilcher has been measured in her use of violent imagery. It’s impossible to make an accurate movie about this subject without any violence and there are moments of peril, brief scenes of torture, and executions. That said, these episodes are kept brief and the gore is kept to a minimum.
This movie is particularly valuable for teenage viewers (and adults) who are unfamiliar with the history of World War II. I can remember my grandfather and great-uncles talking about the war, but that generation has passed away and most of our kids will only learn about the valor and terror of those times from films or books. A Call to Spy is a good place to start.Directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher. Starring Sarah Megan Thomas, Stana Katic, and Radhika Apte. Running time: 123 minutes. Theatrical release October 2, 2020. Updated October 12, 2020
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A Call to Spy
Rating & Content Info
Why is A Call to Spy rated PG-13? A Call to Spy is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for some strong violence, disturbing images, language, and smoking.
Violence: People are heard screaming on several occasions. A woman’s head is pushed underwater and held there to make her talk. A man slaps a woman across the face. A man’s bloody leg is shown. Dead bodies with bullet holes are seen in a ditch. “Death to the Jews” and other anti-Semitic slogans and images are seen on signs. Two explosions occur on screen. A main character stabs and kills a man; some blood is visible. The corpse of a hanged man is seen. A man’s hands are plunged into boiling water. A secondary character is tortured. A man is shot in the head off screen; his body is shown with blood pooling beneath him. A woman is shown with blood on her face and arms. A main character is shot in the head on screen.
Sexual Content: There is reference to prostitutes. A woman is called a whore.
Profanity: Approximately one dozen profanities are heard in the film, principally terms of deity. Minor curse words are also used as is a scatological term.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Characters smoke frequently which would be typical of the era. Characters drink alcohol in social settings. A character is given unspecified drugs for pain and to keep her alert. She takes them frequently. Characters are given cyanide pills to commit suicide in case of capture.
Page last updated October 12, 2020
A Call to Spy Parents' Guide
What motivated the women who served as agents for the SOE? How should their work be remembered?
You can read more about the people depicted in the movie here:
Wikipedia: Vera Atkins
The New York Times: Vera Atkins, 92, Spymaster for the British, Dies
Wikipedia: Virginia Hall
Wikipedia: Noor Inayat Khan
The New York Times: Overlooked No More: Noor Inayat Khan, Indian Princess and British Spy
Wikipedia: Klaus Barbie
Loved this movie? Try these books…
You can learn more about Vera Atkins in William Stevenson’s Spymistress: The True Story of the Greatest Female Secret Agent of World II. Atkins’ post war search for the spies who went missing is covered in A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII by Sarah Helm.
Virginia Hall’s story has been told in several books, including The Wolves at the Door by Judith Pearson, A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell, and Hall of Mirrors; Virginia Hall: America’s Greatest Spy of World War II by Craig Gralley.
The unlikely account of Noor Inayat Khan’s life is also told by several authors. Shrabani Basu has written Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan. Arthur J Magida has completed a deeply researched study of her life in Code Name Madeleine: A Sufi Spy in Nazi-Occupied Paris.
Other books about female agents in the Second World War include The Role of Female Spies in World War II by Hallie Murray. Their stories are also told in D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II by Sarah Rose.
The story of the 40 women employed by section F is told in Escott’s The Heroines of SOE: F Section: Britain’s Secret Women in France. Marcus Binney hones in on ten of those agents in The Women Who Lived for Danger: The Agents of the Special Operations Executive. American female operatives have their stories told in Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS by Elizabeth P McIntosh.
Related home video titles:
Set in the same part of France, Resistance follows a young Marcel Marceau as he helps Jewish children escape the Nazis by traveling over the Pyrenees range into Spain.
Castles in the Sky tells the story of Robert Watson Watt, a Scottish weatherman who develops radar in the run up to World War II.
In The Imitation Game, mathematicians and cipher experts work together to crack Germany’s Enigma code.
When his country unites itself with Nazi Germany, Austrian farmer Franz Jagerstatter cannot bring himself to swear a loyalty oath to Hitler. The consequences are agonizing, as is told in A Hidden Life.
A young German lawyer only becomes aware of his country’s atrocities over a dozen years later in Labyrinth of Lies.