A Jew, a woman and Churchill’s favorite spy: Christine Granville, flesh-and-blood hero

It is fitting that the title of Clare Mulley’s excellent new biography of World War II British spy Christine Granville, “The Spy Who Loved,” is borrowed from James Bond.  The 1977 film The Spy Who Loved Me is a romping adventure of international espionage, grand plots and sex, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

Much the same can be said of Granville’s life. Said to have been Churchill’s favorite spy, between the German invasion of her native Poland in 1939 and the war’s end six years later, Granville worked for British intelligence, aided the resistance in Poland and France, outsmarted the SS, broke men’s hearts all over Europe, hobnobbed with generals, and jumped out of planes. Dazzlingly beautiful, some have claimed that Fleming’s first Bond heroine, Vesper Lynd from the 1952 “Casino Royale,” was based on Granville. While Mulley debunks this theory, its resilience is a testament to a life lived on a mythic, Bondsian scale.

As with any hero, though, Granville’s adventures are more than just her own. Mulley, also the author of a well-received biography of Eglantyne Jebb, the founder of Save the Children, uses her subject’s life as a window onto the bravery and tragedy of 20th-century Poland, whose independence was twice sacrificed — to Hitler in 1939 and Stalin in 1945 — by erstwhile allies. This large canvas adds depth to Mulley’s well-researched portrayal, a fascinating and riveting account of an exceptional spy’s exceptional life.

Read the whole review from 2013 in Haaretz.