A Call to Spy

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
A Call to Spy Movie Poster Image
Inspirational story of female WWII spies has war violence.
  • PG-13
  • 2020
  • 123 minutes

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 3 reviews

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Heroes step up to defeat evil, even when it's not expected or required. Brings to light often-overlooked women who took on dangerous assignments to help win World War II. Themes include the power of resistance, teamwork, and that one person can make a difference.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Role models don't get better than these three courageous, tenacious, and inspirational women, whose gender, ethnic, religious, and physical diversity helped them succeed in their mission. The spies volunteered knowing they had little chance of survival, but their personal integrity and belief in serving the greater good drove them to sign up.

Violence

Depictions of realistic war violence, including water torture and beatings. Nazis shoot and hang dissidents. Stabbing. Wails of distress. Glimpse of a pile of dead bodies. Intense peril, with many of the real-life characters not surviving. 

Sex

A brothel is shown, with the implication that the women outside of it are prostitutes.

Language

Infrequent language includes "goddammit," "whore," "hell," and "stupid" (not in reference to a person). "Jesus!" is used as an exclamation. Antisemitic sentiment from uppercrust British characters.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Frequent smoking and drinking at social gatherings and strategy meetings. Virginia Hall is shown taking pain pills several times to emphasize the additional pain and difficulty she endured by taking active work when she wore a wooden leg. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Call to Spy is an inspirational historical thriller about three brave women who acted as spies for the Allies during World War II. It's a blueprint for inclusiveness, with the main characters' gender, ethnic, religious, and physical diversity helping them succeed in their mission. This is the kind of movie you want to share with your daughters (and your sons!): The women's integrity, courage, cunning, and gumption are exceptional. The movie includes wartime violence, but the torture, shootings, hangings, and beatings aren't gratuitous or graphic -- they're historically necessary to tell the story. As you'd likely expect due to the 1940s setting, there's plenty of smoking and drinking, including passing mentions of how the Nazi regime banned women from smoking. Language is infrequent but includes "goddammit," "whore," "hell," and more. While World War II ended in victory and the film shows that the spy network's efforts were successful, it certainly isn't a happy ending for all concerned.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 10 and 13-year-old Written byMasreliez October 23, 2020

A True Story of Courage and Sacrifice.

Very good. Probably should be rated +17, but not as difficult as Schindler's List. There are checkpoints with dead bodies, seizures of people at train stop... Continue reading
Parent of a 9 and 11-year-old Written bycseven7 June 6, 2021

Very good but needs a higher age rating than 12+

I should have looked more closely at the (one) parent rating for age rather than the overall Common Sense Media age recommendation before chosing this movie to... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byroddsteel18 February 19, 2021

Holy moly, really undershot on this one CSM

This is actually a really good movie, but violent and bloody, Tortue, Execution, Shots to the head, Slicing across the front of enemy bodies with knifes from be... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byJessica Waldorf April 16, 2021

Amazing! *no spoilers*

This movie is fantastic! (the first few min are violent but watch through it, it gets better) Watch this if you are already familiar with WWII (wouldn't wa... Continue reading

What's the story?

While World War II was going poorly in Europe, Winston Churchill's Special Operations Executive (SOE) spy agency recruited women in the desperate hope that they'd be less conspicuous. Vera Atkins (Sarah Megan Thomas), Virginia Hall (Stana Katic), and Noor Inayat Khan (Radhika Apte) bravely answer Britain's call and positively impact the outcome of the war. 

Is it any good?

Forget James Bond: These three real-life spies are more exciting and inspirational than any fictional creation. Atkins is actually thought to be the inspiration for Bond's Miss Moneypenny. Here she's portrayed as a glamorous woman who was in charge of a spy network made up mostly of men who began recruiting and training women. And most Disney Princesses wouldn't stand a chance against Khan, the real-life Indian princess who saved the world by applying her intelligence in international espionage, enduring torture, and giving her life (rather than secrets) to the Nazis. Finally, the fact that Hall, who was passed over by both suitors and managers because of a limb amputation, went on to become one of the world's greatest secret agents is massively satisfying.

Even if this movie were terrible, it would still be worth watching -- but, thankfully, it's fascinating. It is a different kind of spy movie, though. You'll likely find yourself less caught up in the nuts and bolts of each assignment or the broad strategy. Instead, the focus is on the women's development, from early training, through scary situations they weren't properly prepared for, to becoming leaders. But director Lydia Dean Pilcher makes our hearts race all the same. Some breath-holding moments put viewers' in the women's shoes for a moment, likely wondering how they'd fare in the same circumstance. That's the trick of the film: not just showing us women who are heroes but showing us that we can be heroes, too.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about gender roles in the '40s. How did women's wartime contributions help spark eventual change? How are things different for many women now?

  • How do these real-life spies defy Hollywood's typical depictions of spies? How did they use their diversity to succeed in their mission? How does the film show that both individual actions and teamwork are essential to achieve a goal?

  • What makes these women positive role models? How are their integrity, compassion, courage, and perseverance demonstrated? Why are those character traits important?

  • The camera often takes a "voyeuristic" point of view to capture the action. What does this mean, and why do you think it was used for this film?

  • How faithfully do you think A Call to Spy depicts the events it shows? Why might filmmakers decide to alter the facts in movies based on real life? How could you confirm what actually happened?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

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