Violette (Virginia McKenna) is a innocent British girl living in London. Her mother is French and wants her to bring a French soldier home to celebrate some French holiday. She meets Etienne (Alain Saury), a Frenchman with uncontrollable eyebrows, brings him home, and quickly falls in love. They marry, have a child, and he dies in North Africa. MI-6 (I take it) catch up with her and see that she has a particular set of skills that they can make use of, like send her into occupied France and run about a bit. Her partner in espionage is Fraser (Paul Scofield), a thoughtful and aloof spy, well-schooled in French geography and the Resistance. One mission goes well, the other less well and the rest is history.
Carve Her Name with Pride (1958) is a good bit of propaganda, even if it was made 13 years too late. It reminds me a great deal of the 49th Parallel in that their use of language is vague to the point of self-parody. But that and the use of “just doing my bit for the war effort” without even a hint of irony is what keeps this film back. A film doesn’t need to be cynical about patriotism necessarily, but the earnestness was simply too brutal, the lead character (played by Virginia McKenna) too pure, the story too bumpy. Are we describing a life or are we selling war bonds? That said, the film is never ideological. All the ideology is packed into the costumes. If you’re wearing a Nazi uniform, then you’re a baddie, if you’re not, then you’re probably a goodie. So, you can’t even say that there is some kind of anti-Soviet angle to be had.
So, while some great (or at least very good) films would make use of this setting and period (Charlotte Gray (2001) and Shining Through (1992) come immediately to mind), Carve Her Name with Pride hardly holds up as a paragon. McKenna is good, Scofield is good, but the melodrama is very high. Blame on the writers Vernon Harris and Lewis Gilbert (who also directs) for ratcheting up some pretty empty motivation through dialogue rather than action. Why does she leave her daughter behind? For King and Country? I don’t see that.