World War II with female spies pulling back men into the backdrop, that’s how one can sum up – A Call To Spy. Lydia Dean Pilcher’s first solo directorial gig tells the story of three fierce women from different cultures – an American, a Romanian Jew and an Indian princess – who worked for the F (France) section of Sir Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) to “disrupt the Nazi war machine”.
As per the plot, the film follows a desperate Churchill facing the threat of German invasion across the English Channel from France, he enlists Vera Atkins (Stana Katic) to enroll women to gather intelligence as part of the war effort. She recruited many women but “A Call to Spy” is about two of them — Noor Inayat Khan (Radhika Apte, an Amazon regular) apart from Hall.
The main attraction for Indian audience is the fact that the film depicts an Indian princess – Noor Inayat Khan and that to it is being played by none other than Radhika Apte. Noor is a British citizen of Indian descent born in Moscow and raised in France. The 2014 docudrama Enemy of the Reich (directed by Robert H. Gardner and narrated by Helen Mirren) and a book – The Spy Princess by journalist-writer Shrabani Basu, which filmmaker Shyam Benegal came close to adapting for the big screen over a decade ago are some of the other works based on Inayat Khan.
Although given less footage, Apte is convincingly Noor who has a mysterious personality and hates violence and war in contrast to the role she is supposed to play.
Radhika as Noor steals the show with few lines. When asked why she chose to become a signal woman, Noor (Radhika) says: “I play the harp and the piano and signalling is like music; there is rhythm in it.” “Why is this your war?” Noor is questioned, who writes stories for children, faces before she is accepted into the fold. “I am a British citizen. I grew up in France. It’s my home. I can’t let the Nazis do what they are doing,” Noor replies.
Noor’s mother, Pirani (Laila Robins) is full of anguish when her daughter ventures into the unknown – a zone where life and death are separated by a thin line. Noor came from a completely separate background – she was a Muslim, an Indian and a woman. Moreover, her religion and her belief in Sufi ideology stopped her from believing in violence.
“I am a pacifist. They are training us to kill,” she asserts to which Virginia replies, “They are training us to survive.”
She holds on to truth and peace and boards a plane being sent out to France to rescue a seriously wounded agent, when Vera asks her again if she still has any doubts. Noor said she doesn’t. “I’m resolved. I can fight. My resistance isn’t motivated by hate,” she says.
Yet it is Sarah Megan Thomas, who leads the show all the way from writing the script writer to co-producer to overshadowing the other two female spies by playing Virginia Hall. Hall is an American with a wooden leg whose sterling acts of bravery as the first-ever female covert operative of the SOE opened the doors for other women to follow suit.
Pilcher has a history of Indian projects that were directed by Mira Nair. She has directed the film with such brilliance that one is bound to be glued to their screens for entire two hours.
Cinematographer Robby Baumgartner composes visuals with color palette that are lush without being overly varnished.
One can hardly guess that the film was made on a shoe-string budget provided the exotic locations and the detailing of the film within such short time.
You can watch it now on Amazon Prime Video.