Tuesday 30 July 2013

The Page 99 Test: The Spy Who Loved

"Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you." --Ford Madox Ford

The Spy Who Loved
Page 99 of The Spy Who Loved touches a wonderful moment in the book when special agent Krystyna Skarbek, aka Christine Granville, and her one-legged lover and comrade-in-arms Andrzej Kowerski, are making a getaway from the Gestapo in Budapest, before they start to flee across Europe in the spring of 1941.
Andrzej’s pride and joy was his sandy-brown, two-door Opel Olympia, which he had kept topped up with petrol but hidden in a dirty greenhouse in the gated courtyard behind his and Christine’s flat. This was the same car that he had driven out of Poland the year before, and in which he had escaped the Hungarian internment camp. The SS had raced Opels in 1938, and the following year the convertible became a favourite of high-ranking SS officers. It is entirely possible that Andrzej’s beloved car had once belonged to a discerning Wehrmacht officer, as his sister later proudly referred to it as his ‘spoils of the war with Germany’…
Displaying what the British simply called ‘great presence of mind’, Christine had just orchestrated her and Andrzej’s release from a brutal interrogation by biting her tongue so hard it had bled profusely, enabling her to pretend to cough up blood – a symptom of tuberculosis. Rightly terrified of this highly contagious disease, the Germans had kicked them both out. But Christine still had to plead her and Andrzej’s case to the British Minister at the Embassy, where they first sought refuge, before being ‘folded up like a penknife’ and driven across the border to free Yugoslavia in the boot of the Embassy car, with Andrzej following behind in the trusty Opel.

The Opel would take them on through Europe in the spring of 1941, sometimes weeks and sometimes just days ahead of the Nazi advance. On occasion Christine would smuggle highly incriminating microfilm inside her gloves, and sometimes Andrzej employed a special panel in his wooden leg for the same purpose. Eventually the car delivered them to the safety of the British base in Cairo. Here Christine would undertake some espionage, her methods perhaps suggested by her code-name, ‘Willing’, and she was also trained to be dropped into occupied France in July 1944, ahead of the Allied liberation in the south, where her work would make her truly legendary.

There is something rather wonderful about having them captured on page 99, not by the Gestapo, the Wehrmacht, or the frustrating bureaucracy of the Allies, but in mid-flight, showing typical chutzpah as they head off to new countries and undercover missions, admittedly with ‘bruised and swollen faces’ but also with a stolen German car, a hip-flask of Hungarian brandy, and some nice new British passports.

Friday 26 July 2013

Dreamcast "The Spy Who Loved"

The Spy Who Loved
The eponymous Spy Who Loved was Krystyna Skarbek, aka Christine Granville, Britain’s first female special agent of WWII. This Polish, part-Jewish, Countess and pre-war beauty queen would become one of the most successful and highly decorated agents of the war. The book title is not only an oblique reference to James Bond – Christine was an inspiration for Bond’s creator Ian Fleming – but also a reference to Christine’s huge appetite for life, which she loved in its widest sense. She loved danger, adventure and adrenalin. She loved men – she had two husbands and numerous lovers. But most of all she loved freedom; freedom for her country, Poland, and the Allies, and freedom for herself. Who on earth could play such a woman and bring to life not only her magnetism, but her great patriotism, courage, determination, occasional cruelty and deep generosity?

The tempting answer is Rachel Weisz, not just a dark-haired beauty and action actress, but in real life Mrs James Bond, in that she is married to Daniel Craig. Or what about the stunning Eva Green who played Vesper Lynd, the Bond beauty reputedly inspired by Christine, in the 2006 film of Casino Royale? I would have to resist both, great actresses though both may be. The link to Bond is just too close for comfort. Christine’s life and achievements, even her looks, may have inspired Fleming, but she herself was much more Bond that Bond-girl. She demands an actress who will keep her centre stage.

Whether there will be a film of Krystyna’s remarkable life is yet to be seen, but it seems that casting her is already a popular game. In the 1950s a screenplay was written by Bill Stanley Moss, author of Ill Met By Moonlight (about his and Paddy Leigh Fermor’s WWII work as special agents in Crete). Moss knew Krystyna well, and also wrote a series of articles about her forPicture Post, but the film project was finally shelved. Had it not have been, we might have enjoyed watching Sarah Churchill, the actress daughter of British war-time leader Sir Winston Churchill, in the role that she was apparently keen to play. More recently Agnieszka Holland was rumoured to be interested in a biopic of Krystyna, and leading ladies mooted included Kate Winslet and Tilda Swinton. And only this week Jezebel.com considered the same thing, with Franka Potente, Noomi Rapace, Anna Chancellor and Sharleen Spiteri all being flagged up.

Personally I would plump for the excellent Agnieszka Grochowska, a charismatic actress who could bring Polish insight as well as the acting skill and great beauty required to really give depth to this extraordinary and complex woman. But whether any actress could capture Krystyna completely I doubt, and perhaps that is how she would have preferred things; to be known, admired, emulated even, but ultimately - still free