When you think of World War 2 spy movies, the first titles that come to mind are The Third Man (1949), Black Book (2006), Bridge of Spies (2015), Ministry of Fear (1944), The House on 92nd Street (1945), 5 Fingers (1952), The Man Who Never Was (1956), Night Train to Munich (1940), Foreign Correspondent (1940), All Though the Night (1942) and I See a Dark Stranger (1946). Now, the common thread binding all these highly engrossing films is how they weave a tense tale of espionage like a daring act performed by a tightrope walker, around which other facets like human emotions and moral complexities blossom. The problem with A Call to Spy, available now on Amazon Prime, is how it primarily focuses on those kind of emotions minus the moral ambiguity, and with actual spy work taking a back seat.
Scroll down for my full A Call to Spy review... What's it about
Inspired by the true story of three women — Virginia Hall (Sarah Megan Thomas), Vera Atkins (Stana Katic) and Noor Inayat Khan (Radhika Pate) — who worked as spies in erstwhile British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's Secret Army during World War 2, the film endeavours to detail how they infiltrate Nazi-occupied France to build a formidable spy network and loyal resistance base to help thwart the German invasion in the long run of the allied war effort.
What actually hold A Call to Spy together are the performances, with Sarah Megan Thomas, Stana Katic Atkins and Linus Roache standing out in particular.
Radhika Apte is decent as Noor Inayat Khan, but doesn't get a meaty enough role to shine while other supporting players like Rossif Sutherland as Dr. Chevain and Samuel Roukin as Christopher make a fist of their sketchily written parts. The production values are pretty good as are Robby Baumgartner and Miles Goodall's camerawork, and Lillie Rebecca McDonough's background score given what the director and writer were going for. What's not
Sarah Megan Thomas also pens the screenplay of A Call to Spy and the cardinal sin she makes is to show the character's trials and tribulations through their emotions rather than the precarious situation they're thrust in, which is a no-no for a spy film. And if it could work, then her script just doesn't make it, nor does the direction by Lydia Dean Pilcher, who seems to have followed the written material handed to her rather than injecting some vitality into it with her imagination. It's not that they falter miserably or anything, but just that what they go for doesn't come off well enough to keep you engaged, ultimately drawing away from the espionage-centric plot of a spy thriller.
It's not that the deviation aimed for in A Call to Spy doesn't work, but it's that it only works in parts as we expect a spy movie and get one instead on emotional vulnerability with very little tension to keep you hooked. I'm going with 2.5 out of 5 stars.
2.5 out of 5
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