Carve Her Name With Pride

Dir: Lewis Gilbert, 1958. Starring: Virginia McKenna, Paul Scofield, Jack Warner. War Movies.
Carve Her Name With Pride

Honestly, I picked this one up because of the cover. The title struck me, as did the image of a flaxen-haired beauty brandishing a handgun. This is the true life story of British spy Violette Szabo (Virginia McKenna). Since her real life was gussied up for this film, I am simply going to refer to the film, not her life. Widowed in 1942 (her husband was a French soldier), she is propositioned to act as a liaison between British and French troops. Being fluent in French and athletics, she was a swell candidate. We follow her journey from 1940-1944. It’s a nice time-warp to a period when evil was so easily defined. Nazis? Yes, EVIL! Torn between her only daughter and fulfilling her civic duty, she quickly decides to leave the former behind and finish what she felt her husband had been fighting for. We follow her to her unfortunate end in 1944.

I found the film highly enjoyable, in part from the very subtle camera work and non-invasive directing. In a scene when Violette is handed her husband’s death letter by her mother, we simply see a door close. This was a very subdued and nice touch that goes along with the slight tension throughout the film. We don’t see her reaction to her husband’s death, and more importantly we never see McKenna overact. Her military training is fun to watch. Akin to a less nefarious Le Femme Nikita situation. Training montage, nasty drill instructor, and hijinks all included. There is a very striking scene of her wandering the streets of a German occupied French city while on her first mission. A stark contrast to the lightness of her home life in London.

“I wonder if that isn’t the best of war: No time to get attached,” Szabo tells a fellow officer. This, in a way, becomes her credo; as if she knows not to hope for anything selfishly, as long as the war reaches a positive conclusion.

All in all this a cleverly British look into the inner workings of a spy’s lifestyle, made in the late 1950s. The film never tries too hard to seem “too realistic” or dramatic, which is its strength (i.e. minimal use of hand-held cameras, gratuitous war scenes, etc.). The tendency some directors have to sap things up is, for the most part, non-existent, save a few romantic flourishes to keep the market audience interested. It does a good job at showing us the last part of this woman’s life; an incredible life that was punctuated by moments of extremity. Plus, it’s thrilling to watch McKenna taking out Nazis with a machine gun in a French forest.

Posted by:
Adam Payne
Apr 27, 2009 1:22pm
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