A Call to Spy

Oct 12, 2020

A stirring biopic about heroic women in WWII. It stands proudly this year with Summerland and The Guernsey Literary Society.

A Call to Spy

Grade: B

Director: Lydia Dean Pilcher

Screenplay: Sarah Megan Thomas (Backwards), Stana Katic (CBGB)

Cast: Thomas (Equity), et al.

Runtime: 2h 3m

Rating: Pg-13

By: John DeSando

“Bon Courage” (Stationmaster whispers to a heroine)

A Call to Spy is a biopic as straight as its title: Here are women recruited by Churchill to spy on the Nazis, an unusual effort given that women, like Jews, has to face discrimination. Based on actual events, with a little massaging to make a tight drama, this spy story gives us women who outshine Wonder Woman for their wit and sheer courage, none manufactured or warped out of reality.

Vera Hall (played by writer Sarah Megan Thomas), the model for Bond’s Moneypenny, recruits, among scores of women, Virginia with a wooden leg and Noor with a facility for the wireless. Virginia is the scourge of the Nazis, recruiting civilians, blowing up bridges, and crossing the Pyrenes by foot to escape, only to return to the “field” at the end of her career

The merit of this historical drama is the unadorned, quiet acts of heroism in France and the dispassionate pain of making decisions that involve loss of lives. The women of the SOE (Special Operations Executive) may have to prove themselves, but once they do, they are not ever dismissed easily.

In fact, Virginia’s wooden leg serves as a not too subtle symbol of the disadvantage she suffers being a woman, just as her boss, Vera, suffers for being a Jew. Would that writer Sarah Megan Thomas (who also plays Vera) could he given more about her, but, hey, it’s WWII with millions of stories and nasty Nazis to boot.

Some of the spy story cliches like the misty train station (think Casablanca) and eating notes slightly compromise the authentic feel about an enterprise that won many awards for its bravery and ingenuity. I adore good WWII stories like the recent Summerland and The Guernsey Literary Society and Potato Peel Pie Society, both about heroic women.

A Call to Spy deserves to be ranked with those outstanding historical stories, and the three do more for feminism than all the super hero fictions then and now.

On Prime demand and in theaters.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at