Women's Lives on Screen

The Enduring Influence of Female Special Operations Executive Agent Biopics on Cultural Memory and Representations in France and Great Britain





World War Two, SOE F section female agents, cinematographic representations, gender, cultural memory


Seventy-five years have elapsed since the end of World War Two. Yet, the memory of the conflict still occupies a central place in British and French collective consciousness. Fiction and film representations of the war act as powerful ‘vectors of memory’, to borrow an expression from French historian Henry Rousso, and as such, they have deeply contributed to shaping popular and cultural memories of the war.

This article investigates a specific aspect of World War Two representations, namely the cinematic representations of the female agents from the SOE F section, focusing on the ‘generic’ or archetypal figure of the female SOE agent as generated by the post-war cultural industry. After a brief contextualisation focusing on Churchill’s clandestine organisation, the article will analyse the contribution of Odette (Herbert Wilcox, 1950) and Carve Her Name with Pride (Lewis Gilbert, 1958) to the construction of a World War Two ‘mythology’. It will then address more recent films, concentrating on Charlotte Gray (Gillian Armstrong, 2001) and Female Agents (Jean-Paul Salomé, 2008).

How did the fictional construction of the female spy come to influence the social and cultural perception of the SOE agent? Are the tropes developed in such post-war films as Odette or Carve Her Name with Pride still current or have they evolved with time? The analysis of these fictional representations will reveal the permanence or evolution of certain representational patterns and also allow us to approach different perspectives on the cultural representation of World War Two on both sides of the Channel.

Author Biography

Sylvie Pomiès-Maréchal, Orléans University

Sylvie Pomiès-Maréchal is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Orléans. Her research mainly deals with the impact of the two World Wars on the social roles of women. Her works include studies on British women in the French resistance (especially F section SOE agents) but also on British nurses serving on the Verdun front. Some of these studies are based on the analysis of war diaries or narratives. In 2008, she also translated Christine Morrow's Abominable Epoch into French (Christine Morrow, Une abominable époque. Journal d’une Australienne en France 1940-1941, Toulouse, Éditions Privat, 2008).





Women's Lives on Screen