- Colin Fraser
A CALL TO SPY
TWO AND A HALF STARS Women are sent to spy for the Allies in this true war story.
Sarah Megan Thomas, Stana Katic, Radhika Apte
DRAMA UK #ACALLTOSPY
One of the lesser known stories of World War 2 is brought to life in this interesting, if routine, spy yarn well suited to Sunday night schedules. Journeyman direction from Lydia Dean Pilcher pitches to audiences in a style that has kept long running favourites like Midsommer Murders afloat for years.
Pilcher’s previous, debut, effort as director charted women in the 1920’s who fought for better conditions after becoming ill from radium exposure. Moving forward a couple of decades, she now charts three women who fought for their country by spying on the Nazis.
Linus Roache (VIKINGS’ King Ecbert) heads up a clandestine operation that sends female operatives into occupied France to spy for the Allies. It’s reasoned that because they’ll be largely invisible (who’d suspect a woman?) they’ll be largely successful. But it’s war of course, and nothing is certain.
Pilcher and screenwriter Sarah Megan (who plays Roache’s right-hand woman) are determined not to make a splashy war film nor thrilling spy drama. They defer to the experiences of the three women at the core of the story, and with a two-hour-plus runtime, we spend quite a bit of time with them. That’s the upside, for these incredibly brave people made sacrifices that were incredibly compelling. The downside is that the lack of onscreen thrills, conventional or otherwise, robs the film of much in the way of danger or pace (despite the source material having plenty of both).
In some ways, there’s too much detail for one film and a real sense that too much of their fascinating stories has been left out. Had it been a long-form TV series it would have allowed us to grow an attachment to the characters that a feature, constructed as this is, simply can’t allow. Consequently any emotional punches glance across the audience rather than delivering body-blows (and they should).
A CALL TO SPY is an undeniably heartfelt endeavour and a fascinating strand of history, yet the viewing experience is a muted one.