A Call to Spy Highlights Virginia Hall, the Most Powerful Female Secret Agent in Modern History
Though the name Virginia Hall might not be familiar to most, during World War II, the American from Baltimore, who was living in Europe before war broke out, ended up becoming one of the most powerful and revered spies working for the Allied forces.
The new IFC film A Call to Spy (out now on Demand) stars Sarah Megan Thomas as Hall (who also wrote and produced the film), Stana Katic as fellow spy Vera Atkins, and Radhika Apte as a spy and wireless operator Noor Inayat Khan.
In real life, the three women were part of Winston Churchill's Special Operations Executive, which helped undermine the Nazi regime in France.
Hall's story is particularly fascinating. Though she was born into a rich family in Baltimore and studied at Radcliffe, Columbia, and George Washington University, she craved more adventure, eventually traveling to Europe to finish her schooling, and later trying to get a job as a diplomat in France.
However, her wooden leg—which she gained after shooting herself in the foot while hunting birds—prohibited her from joining the U.S. Department of State.
In 1941, a chance meeting with a British intelligence officer led to a role with the Special Operations Executive or the SOE, where women were being hired as spies by Churchill. She was soon stationed in Paris where she posed as a reporter for the New York Post.
She quickly became adept at organizing resistance operations, where she supplied agents with money and weapons in Lyons, France. Hall eventually befriended a brothel owner who conscripted prostitutes working there to get information from German soldiers and pass it on to her and her team.
A master of disguise, Hall was eventually declared "the most dangerous spy of all time" by the Axis Powers, and the Gestapo had her on its most-wanted list. It's rumored that notorious Nazi Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie, known as "The Butcher of Lyon" for his torture of Jews and French resistance fighters, once said of Hall, "I would give anything to get my hands on that limping Canadian bitch."
Undeterred, Hall continued working in France to support the Allied Powers' efforts against the Nazis via the resistance groups until the collapse of the regime. After the war, she joined the CIA, becoming one of the first women hired by the intelligence agency where she supported undercover activities to prevent the spread of communism.
At the age of 60, Hall retired to a farm in Maryland, where she lived until her death in 1982. In 2019, a book about her life, A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of WWII’s Most Dangerous Spy, Virginia Hall, by Sonia Purnell, was released.
A Call to Spy is the first film to focus solely on Hall's work—and highlight the true importance of women's role in wartime spying. The film is now available on Video on Demand.