Friday, 18 November 2016

Die Spionin (2 Stars)

When I heard about this film in 2013 I was excited. Vera von Schalburg is known as the "Mata Hari of WW2". She was a German spy who was irresistible to every man she met, and she managed to infiltrate the British Secret Service in the early war years. Then I read that the film was badly received by critics, but it didn't worry me. I still waited anxiously for the film to be released on DVD, but I had to wait a long time. I was finally able to buy it this year.

Let me start by saying that it's difficult to make a film telling the true story of Vera von Schalburg. Her life up to 1940 is well documented, but then she disappeared while on a mission in Scotland. It's interesting to see that the English, German and Danish Wikipedia pages contradict one another about what happened in her later life. Let's not blame Wikipedia for this. It's a web site which bases its information on outside sources, but if the sources are contradictory the writers in each country have to decide what they want to believe.

Vera von Schalburg was born in Siberia in 1907. Her father was a Danish diplomat and her mother was Ukrainian. Her family left Russia in 1917, and she grew up in Germany, Denmark, England and France.

The film begins in 1938, when she was working as a call girl in high society circles in Paris. She's recruited by the German secret service and sent to Hamburg for training. At first she does office work, for which she's highly qualified due to her command of several languages (Russian, Polish, German, French, English and Danish). In 1939 she's sent to England to join the British secret service, which she does by seducing a senior agent. A year later she was recalled to Germany, but sent back on a mission to Scotland.

After that the facts get hazy. Some reports say that she disappeared completely in 1940. Others say she was captured and kept in prison. Others say that she was turned and worked for the British as a double agent. A book published in Norway claims she lived in England under a false name until 1993, but the author refuses to name his source.

The film follows the double agent theory. It shows that she was turned against Germany in 1939 and reported false information back to the German secret service. It then goes on to show that when she returned to England (via Scotland) in 1940 she immediately rendezvoused with the authorities and broke her ties with Germany completely.

Now to the reason why I've rated the film so low. From my understanding of the historical person Vera von Schalburg, she was a very powerful woman. The film portrays her as weak, being forced to work for first the German secret service then the English secret service against her will. The actress Valerie Niehaus portrays her as an insecure person. I don't believe this is who she really was. Apart from this, the film is careful to show that she was never a Nazi supporter, she was just doing the job to make money. It's possible this was true, but it's also possible it wasn't. The film was just written this way to make her more sympathetic to the audience. I would rather it had remained neutral, not making any claims that aren't backed up by historical facts.

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