Carve Her Name with Pride (1958)

(Image via Rare Film Posters)
(Image via Rare Film Posters)

Violette Bushell (Virginia McKenna) is the daughter of an English father and French mother, working at a London department store in the early days of the second World War.

French officer Etienne Szabo (Alain Saury), stationed in London, meets Violette and her friend in a park one day. Violette’s mother has asked her to invite a lonely French soldier over for dinner; she invites Etienne, and a whirlwind courtship ensues.

Etienne and Violette marry and have a daughter, but before the baby is born, Etienne is sent to North Africa to fight. In the wake of his death, Violette uses her skills in linguistics to become a spy for the British government.

Carve Her Name with Pride is based on a true story and was directed by Lewis Gilbert.

This film is a war drama for the most part, but there is some humor, particularly in the training scenes as Violette works to become an agent. (In one scene, Violette and two of her pals sneak into the CO’s quarters after a training exercise, to steal alcohol!)

As the film progresses and Violette begins her work as an undercover agent, the story takes a few heartbreaking turns, holding a firm grip on the viewer’s attention.

Aside from the successful mix of drama, wartime tension, and little bit of humor, Virginia McKenna’s performance and character are the film’s strongest assets. Violette is not the type of woman who falls to pieces after her husband’s death. She is heartbroken, especially over the fact that her daughter will never meet Etienne, but she remains strong. She’s also willing to fight in the war, despite the fact that it is the very war that killed her husband.

(Image via Films en caja tonta)
(Image via Films en caja tonta)

She’s a brave character, but quietly so; she doesn’t flaunt her courage or enter the war seeking fame and recognition. Violette is a truly inspirational woman, even more so since the character is based on a real person. McKenna’s performance contains a quiet strength and sense of optimism that suits her resilient character perfectly.

Carve Her Name with Pride, while probably a somewhat-sanitized depiction of the horrors faced by the real Violette Szabo during her time as an agent, is a wonderful (and heartbreaking) tribute to one of World War II’s bravest woman. The score: 4/5

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