Carve Her Name with Pride (1958) starring Virginia McKenna, Paul Scofield, Jack Warner, Denise Grey, Alain Saury, Avice Landone, Nicole Stéphane directed by Lewis Gilbert Movie Review

Carve Her Name with Pride (1958)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Virginia McKenna as Violette Szabo in Carve Her Name with Pride (1958)

Szabo's No Shrinking Violette

I have sat here for half an hour trying to come up with the words to start this review of "Carve Her Name with Pride" based upon the true story of SOE Violette Szabo and I have been lost for words. The reason is because first and fore mostly Violette Szabo's story is an amazingly powerful one and the way director Lewis Gilbert has brought it to the screen is just as amazing as is the performance of Virginia McKenna in the role of Szabo. It is basically the combination of these 3 things which makes "Carve Her Name with Pride" such a brilliant movie and one which you will be touched by and never forget.

Now with many true stories there has been poetic licence used in adapting Szabo's story to the big screen, elements such as a romance which formed between her and fellow secret agent Tony Fraser have been included to make the story work, whilst others such as the nature of Szabo's execution has been changed. But these elements do not spoil the heart of the story because the heart is Szabo herself, her life, her relationships and what she did to serve the country during the war. As such we witness several pivotal elements in Szabo's life, meeting and marrying Ettiene as well as having their child Tania, who due to service abroad Etienne never got to see. But all these elements allow us in to the heart of Violette Szabo, this young yet strong woman who on being asked to become a spy because of being able to speak French agreed.

Billie Whitelaw and Virginia McKenna in Carve Her Name with Pride (1958)

What follows on from this opening, and I won't go into detail because to explain too much would be to spoil the movie, is Violette going through training before being sent on her first mission. Now this is nicely done because the training whilst not funny has a light tone, well what do you expect when you have Bill Owen as a training instructor. But in doing so it creates this image of Szabo who whilst proficient with a gun and fearless when it came to training be it jumping out of a plane or doing self defence also had a caring side. Yet it switches nicely to the drama when she then goes on her first mission into France with Tony Fraser, a mission which as we quickly realise is dangerous.

This first mission then leads to the second; something unusual considering that the German's had become suspicious of her first time around. But whilst there are some changes to the truth this second mission tells what happened to Violette and it is powerful and emotional stuff. For those who don't know Szabo's story will be shocked and those who do will struggle to control the tears it is that powerful.

Now the reason for this, the reason why "Carve Her Name with Pride" is such a terrific movie is that Szabo's story is powerful, it is also because director Lewis Gilbert has done a marvellous job of making it work on the big screen. But there is a third reason and that is Virginia McKenna who brings the character to life, from being the young wife in 1940 to her doing her duty and becoming an SOE. You get a real sense that Violette was clever, courageous and also caring as we watch her care for other war prisoners when opportunity to escape arises. And it is because McKenna creates such a believable character that we grow fond of that the ending is all the more emotional.

What this all boils down to is that "Carve Her Name with Pride" is really one of the great war movies which tell the tale of a true life figure and what they did during the war. Between Szabo's own story, the expert direction of Lewis Gilbert and a brilliant performance from Virginia McKenna "Carve Her Name with Pride" is a movie you won't forget or how it touched you when you watched it and it will make you want to know more about Violette Szabo.