‘Churchill’s favourite spy’ would be cancelled today, says film star

Morgane Polanski
Morgane Polanski

Krystyna Skarbek was said to be Winston Churchill’s favourite spy and the inspiration for James Bond’s MI6 lover, Vesper Lynd.

However, the Hollywood actress who stars as Skarbek in an upcoming film fears that in today’s politically correct environment, the notoriously brave – and outspoken – spy may not have lasted long.

Morgane Polanski, who plays the spy in an upcoming biopic of her life, says people could learn from her courage today. Described by contemporaries as “the bravest of the brave”, her exploits in the Second World War included operating in Nazi-occupied Europe with remarkable gusto and guts.

“I think more women and more men should be like Skarbek,” the actor and daughter of director Roman Polanski told The Telegraph.

“I think more people should just stick to what they believe in without allowing other people to gaslight them in the fear of being cancelled or, whatever…Believe that the truth will always prevail.

“So I think we have more women like Skarbek, we have less men like Skarbek.”

The spy, who was known for arguing with her British handlers and was kicked out of school for setting fire to a priest’s robe during Mass, was unafraid of friend and foe alike.

As to whether the agent would get cancelled today, Polanski said: “I think she would not be afraid to speak for what she stands for. So does that get you cancelled? I feel like maybe.”

Krystyna Skarbek - Apic
Krystyna Skarbek - Apic

Polanski, star of Wes Anderson’s French Dispatch and the blockbuster TV series Vikings, also had kind words to say of Ms Skarbek’s wartime fan Churchill.

“I will say I adore his quotes. I think he has the wittiest, most brilliant quotes,” she said.

“And I admire what he did during World War Two. So him and [Charles] de Gaulle, I think were [among] our many heroes during World War Two.”

As activists reexamine past figures such as Churchill, whose statue in Parliament Square was infamously vandalised with a message describing the wartime leader as a racist during an Extinction Rebellion protest in 2020, Hollywood portrayals of historical characters have come under close scrutiny in recent years.

Netflix was recently criticised by historians for portraying Cleopatra as black in a new documentary about the Egyptian Queen’s life.

Born in Warsaw in 1908, Krystyna Skarbek fled to London at the outbreak of the Second World War to join the newly set-up Special Operations Executive, which Churchill famously ordered to “set Europe ablaze”.

Upon first contact with her, British agents described Ms Skarbek as a “flaming Polish patriot, expert skier, and great adventuress”.

During the course of the war she would carry out a series of dangerous missions that would take her from Cairo to Budapest.

Examples of her courageousness include biting her own tongue until it bled to fake TB and evade her Nazi captors. She also negotiated the release of allied operatives in occupied France.

The new film about her life, The Partisan, is set to be released in the summer of 2024. Shooting is taking place in Poland where the film is partly set.

The £7.5 million project, supported in part by the Polish Film Institute, is directed by James Marquand, whose previous works include comedy films Between Two Worlds and One Night in Istanbul.

Ms Skarbek was said to be the James Bond author’s inspiration for 007’s provocative MI6 lover, Vesper Lynd but Marquand believes Fleming undersold her as a side character, saying: “Truthfully, if she’s any character, she is James Bond.”

“What they worked out was that if their enemy had a weakness, they were going to try and find out what it was. And probably one of their weaknesses was underestimating women. So a female spy could do a hell of a lot more than a male spy,” he said.

Like Ms Skarbek, Polanski has Polish roots, being born in Paris to her director father, and the French actress Emmanuelle Seigner in 1993.

Ms Skarbek also had a French connection, speaking the language well and working with the French Resistance.