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Call to Spy, A


Stars: Sarah Megan Thomas, Radhika Apte, Stana Katic, Linus Roache, Rossif Sutherland, Andrew Richardson, Marc Rissman, Matt Salinger

Director: Lydia Dean Pilcher

The wartime exploits of American-born Allied WW2 spy Virginia Hall (Thomas) are recounted in this absorbing if too-seldom-thrilling drama, which begins in 1940, when Hall is working at the UK War Office.

Her attempts to become a diplomat have been denied thanks to her prosthetic leg (a hunting accident) but, when Winston Churchill decides to recruit women as well as men to bolster the French Resistance and send back vital information, the newly-formed 'Baker Street Irregulars' led by Col Buckmaster (Roache) and Vera Atkins (Katic) soon decide that fluently-French Virginia's disability is an ideal cover for her becoming a field agent/spy.

Other agents are recruited for training, but the film concentrates on Virginia and on Noor (Apte), the first Allied Muslim agent and a skilled radio operator.

The 1940s' setting is impeccably re-created, while Thomas, who also co-scripted, and and Apte, an Indian actress rarely seem outside Bollywood, are both excellent (though Noor's mother should be Indian as per the screenplay).

Much of the rest of the acting is standard repertory stuff, and first-time director Pilcher, while coaxing fine performances from her principal stars, often fails to give dramatic punch to darkly-shot action scenes, so that only occasionally does her film communicate a sense of imminent danger of capture.

As a history lesson, and a tribute to little-known wartime heroism, however, this is a story well worth the telling. One little nitpick: the style of Monopoly box shown in a prison escape scene was not actually seen in shops until long after the war was over.

David Quinlan

USA/Hungary 2019. UK Distributor: Signature. Colour (uncredited).
125 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 18 Oct 2020