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Carve Her Name With Pride (1958)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Carve Her Name With Pride (1958)
35mm, black and white, 119 mins
Directed byLewis Gilbert
Production CompanyKeyboard Productions
Produced byDaniel M. Angel
Screenplay byVernon Harris
 Lewis Gilbert
PhotographyJohn Wilcox
Music Composed byWilliam Alwyn

Cast: Virginia McKenna (Violette Szabo); Paul Scofield (Tony Fraser); Jack Warner (Mr Bushell); Denise Grey (Mrs Bushell); Jacques (Maurice Ronet); Etienne Szabo (Alain Saury)

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The story of Violet Szabo, a Londoner shot as a spy by the Germans during World War II.

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Based on the book by R.J. Minney, Carve Her Name With Pride tells the true story of Violette Szabo, who was recruited to the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and was executed by the Germans at the age of 23 for spying for the Allied forces during WWII. Her feats were recognised when she was posthumously awarded the George Cross in 1946, the second woman to receive the honour. Odette Hallowes, the first, acted as technical adviser on the film and worked particularly closely with Virginia McKenna, who played Violette. McKenna, whose grandfather was French, was ideal for the role. The film boasts a fine assortment of British actors including Paul Scofield, Jack Warner and Bill Owen and French actors Alain Saury, Denise Gray and Maurice Ronet.

Director and co-scriptwriter Lewis Gilbert (working with his long-time collaborator, Vernon Harris) carefully handles the transitions in the film, taking the audience through the light romance and basic training scenes to the darker scenes of interrogation and execution. Gilbert often allows the audience to fill gaps in some major scenes, such as closing the door on Violette's grief when she receives the telegram of Etienne's death, or merely inferring her torture at the hands of a faceless man (only shown from the waist down).

Where possible, Gilbert tried to film in sequence, and the shoot took nearly four months to complete. The film mostly stayed faithful to Violette Szabo's life and the people she met: for instance, in the title sequence McKenna is shown emerging from Szabo's actual family home in Stockwell. However, poetic licence is given to the film's famous poem "The Life That I Have". Szabo did receive the poem from its author - not Etienne but Leo Marks, the famous cryptographer, who worked at the SOE and had apparently written it for his girlfriend.

Gilbert saved filming the execution scene till last, thereby drawing out real emotional exhaustion from his cast, particularly McKenna. In the script, McKenna was originally asked to smile defiantly before being shot. However, the actress, who by then had relived Violette's journey, argued that she simply couldn't do it.The film had a profound effect on her, who excels in her performance of a many-faceted character - loving daughter, playful newly-wed, doting mother, determined trainee, humourous companion, resourceful agent and courageous woman. McKenna later met Violette's daughter, Tania Szabo and often read out the poem at memorial services.

Eddie Dyja

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Video Clips
1. News of Etienne's death (1:40)
2. Never leave yourself undefended (2.00)
3. Sten gun resistance (2:55)
4. Tell me your poem (2:00)
Gilbert, Lewis (1920-)
McKenna, Virginia (1931-)
Scofield, Paul (1922-2008)
Tafler, Sydney (1916-79)
Warner, Jack (1896-1981)
Whitelaw, Billie (1932-)