Carve Her Name With Pride
Sunday, 12.30pm, BBC2
‘The life that I have is all that I have. And the life that I have is yours’ – Leo Marks.
Having already directed a series of robust, flag-waving war movies – in a half-century-spanning career that took in ‘women’s pictures’, the Swinging Sixties and Bond – Lewis Gilbert gave the genre a nudge in the right direction with this unexpected gem. It may be entirely designed to have you reaching for the tissues – punctuated as it is by Leo Marks’s simple but poignant poem (above) – but Gilbert’s tear-jerker, based on a real-life story of female heroism is actually rather important.
Over the past couple of decades, women in war movies have taken an increasingly front line role, but back in the 1940s and 1950s, women were always the carers (mothers, nurses, wives) or the backroom girls, with very few exceptions. Secret agent Violette Szabo’s story is one of those exceptions.
Virginia McKenna, in one of her most memorable roles, is Szabo, the ordinary Anglo-French woman inspired to do her bit for the war effort when her soldier husband is killed in North Africa – and paying the ultimate sacrifice when she is captured by the Gestapo while working for the Resistance behind enemy lines.
The story behind the film
Aside from McKenna, who won a Bafta for her stoic performance, the film’s centrepiece is Marks’s touching 12-line verse – Violette Szabo’s ‘poem code’.
During the war, poems were issued to agents as a way of enabling them to send and decipher secret messages (where each letter is given a number or symbol). In the film, Szabo chooses her poem for its personal significance, but in real-life it was Marks himself, a cryptographer at the Special Operations Executive, who suggested Yours – a poem he had written in remembrance of a girlfriend who had died in tragic circumstances. Marks (above) would later put his obvious literary talents to good use by becoming a successful playwright and scripting Michael Powell’s now iconic serial-killer shocker Peeping Tom. Vicky Thompson
1.20AM, SKY COMEDY