Carve Her Name With Pride (UK 1958)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 6/14/09
Cast: Virginia McKenna, Paul Scofield

Based on R.J. Minney's book of the same name, "Carve Her Name With Pride" is a dramatized account of real life war hero Violette Szabo and her contributions to the French and British during World War II. As the war in Europe escalated, Winston Churchill organized the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a top secret military organization designed to collect intelligence and combat the German advance through espionage, sabotage, and armed resistance. The SOE employed fifty-five female agents during the war, and one of them was the 20 year old Violette Szabo. She signed on with the SOE in 1941 after her husband was killed in action while fighting in Africa, and they taught her how to fight, shoot, set explosives, operate communications equipment, and jump out of airplanes. Being half French, her mastery of the language and knowledge of the land made her a perfect choice to help the French resistance. Her first mission to France was a success, but she was captured by the Germans on her second mission after a fierce gunfight. Violette was imprisoned, tortured, and sexually assaulted by the Nazi's, shipped to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, and executed a year later. She was posthumously awarded the George Cross medal by King George VI.

The film takes numerous artistic liberties with the details of the material, but stays true to the central theme. Virginia McKenna does a superb job as the beautiful and strong-willed Violette. Her complex combination of strength, frailty, duty, and compassion makes her a joy to watch, and really validates the tragedies in her life. She also looks extremely convincing wielding a submachine gun, which carries a huge emotional punch. The film itself is well made, but the pacing can be tedious (as you might expect from a film of its age). The majority of the film revolves around human drama and the stress and tension of the war, but the final half hour bristles with some pretty intense action. Naturally, the camera shies away from any and all violence, so the atrocities of war and the horrors that are inflicted upon Violette are only implied with the clever use of sound and lighting. The film also employs other subtle techniques to deliver emotionally delicate information, and I was very impressed by the simple use of a closed door to signify the news of Violette's husband's death. On the other hand, the film certainly isn't shy about foreshadowing, and constantly drops clues and dramatic cues for Violette's impending doom. While I'm not a fan of war films at all, it's nice to see one that focuses on the women who served their countries and the sacrifices that they made.