Wednesday, February 27, 2013


In the summer of 1940, Violette Szabo (Virginia McKenna), a young woman living in London, is sent out by her French mother on Bastille Day to find some lonely French soldier on leave and keep him company. She and a friend head to the park and after a few misses hit upon the handsome Etienne (Alain Saury). He comes home with Violette for a meal and they spend a few idyllic days together. By the end of the week, they're married. He returns to duty and she has a child, and on their daughter’s second birthday, Violette gets the news that Etienne has been killed in action. When she goes to take care of some pension paperwork, she is recruited to be a secret agent; her cover story, which she has to tell her parents, is that she'll be driving ambulances and running canteens, but she actually goes through a period of tough training—parachute jumping, handling weapons—and is sent on missions in France with the Resistance. She and another agent with whom she's become friendly (Paul Scofield) are assigned to blow up a viaduct and she refuses to take a suicide pill with her; they accomplish the mission but when she's sent on another task, she's captured—though she takes out a number of German soldiers—and tortured for information on the code she uses to pass information. She never breaks and is eventually shot by a firing squad; after the war, she is honored by the British government.

This is based on a true story and the first and last thirds are compelling, with a strong anchoring performance from McKenna (probably best known as Joy Adamson in BORN FREE). The courtship sequence in the beginning is lightly handled and the action near the end, climaxing in an Allied attack on a train which is transporting McKenna and other prisoners, feels real without becoming melodramatic. Billie Whitelaw (wonderful as the Satanic nanny in THE OMEN) plays Violette's friend who basically is stuck with chaperoning for her dates with Etienne. A romance between McKenna and Scofield is toyed with, but it's Maurice Ronet who makes the bigger impression as a handsome French Resistance fighter. The middle sags a bit even thought the training scenes are well done. A tragic but inspiring story told with a minimum of heartstring-tugging. [TCM]

No comments: