A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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?
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?
- In theaters: October 2, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: February 16, 2021
- Cast: Sarah Megan Thomas, Stana Katic, Radhika Apte
- Director: Lydia Dean Pilcher
- Studio: IFC Films
- Genre: Thriller
- Topics: Great Girl Role Models, History
- Character strengths: Compassion, Courage, Integrity, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 123 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some strong violence, disturbing images, language, and smoking
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: February 18, 2021
Our editors recommend
For kids who love heroic women and spies
Find more movies that help kids build character.
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
Streaming options powered by JustWatch