Women in War Stories - 2024 Edition

It's become an annual Memorial Day tradition for me to highlight women in war stories, in honor of the soldiers (of all genders) who have given their lives in our conflicts.

Read other editions of my Women in War Stories series.

I was pleasantly surprised this year to find more than the usual wasteland when I searched for stories to cover. Could Hollywood finally be waking up to the fact that there are cool stories to tell about women at war? One can always hope. I had planned to review a few of the new arrivals in detail here, but life got in the way and I wasn't able to finish them. I will post a follow-up when I do. In the mean time, here's a round-up of some of the interesting things I found.

Operation Mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat (currently streaming on Netflix) is a WW2 film about the intelligence effort to misdirect the Germans before the invasion of Sicily. The real-life story is fascinating (and so strange it almost defies belief), so I hope the film does it justice. Penelope Wilton (so brilliant in Downton Abbey) and Kelly Macdonald co-star as agency secretaries who help with the operation.

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See (also streaming on Netflix), is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. This WW2 miniseries focuses on the intertwined stories of two young people in occupied France: Marie-Laure (played by Aria Mia Loberti), a blind French woman broadcasting coded messages for the resistance, and Werner (played by Louis Hofmann), a German soldier tasked with tracking down unauthorized radio transmissions. I'm about halfway through. It's not bad so far, but everything feels just a little too over-the-top, from the cartoonish Nazi officer hunting Marie-Laure to Mark Ruffalo's wandering accent.

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare (available on Fandango at Home) is a dramatization of a WW2 raid undertaken by one of Britain's early special forces units. A scenery-chewing Henry Cavill plays the leader of the unit, Gus March-Phillips. While inspired by a true story, the trailer is very Hollywood-ized "Dirty Dozen meets Michael Bay". Looks fun, though.

One of the alterations I can get behind is expanding the role of real-life SOE operative Marjorie Stewart from behind-the-scenes. In reality, she worked behind the scenes, but in the film she gets more directly involved. Screenwriter Arash Amel told CinemaBlend, “Given that she was actually training a lot of the female spies going behind enemy lines, it would’ve been criminal to not send her [character] out on a mission in the movie to respect and honor her...That’s where it’s acceptable, for me, to stray from the bounds of an absolute commitment to history because contributions get forgotten."

Courage Under Fire

Courage Under Fire

This 1996 film starring Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan got an honorable mention in my first Women in War Stories post. At the time, I wrote that it was "a pretty decent movie about a woman helicopter pilot nominated to receive the Medal of Honor after the Gulf War. However, Meg Ryan's Captain Walden is little more than a walking plot device, seen only in flashbacks."

While it's true that Washington's Colonel Nat Serling is the lead character, and Walden's story is in service to his, a recent re-watch made me feel I hadn't given the movie its due.

For starters, the cast is amazing. Washington, exuding authority, nails his portrayal of troubled Army officer. As Walden, Ryan brings just the right mix of heart and steely determination. The supporting cast is stellar too, especially Lou Diamond-Phillips as a gung-ho gunner, and a young Matt Damon as Walden's flight medic.

The plot centers around Serling's investigation into whether Walden's heroics deserve the (posthumous) Medal of Honor. As Walden's surviving crew give conflicting accounts of what happened, and pressure mounts to rubber-stamp the award, Serling becomes determined to honor Walden's memory by finding the truth. The story is told in flashbacks, Rashomon-style, with each interview bringing wildly different perspectives of what went down. Through it all, Walden's story depicts many of the challenges faced by women in the military.

At the time, the idea of a woman receiving the Medal of Honor for valor in combat felt somewhat fanciful. Now, with women allowed in most military roles, it feels inevitable.

(Fun Fact: a woman already received the Medal of Honor, albeit at a time when the award criteria were different. Dr. Mary Edwards Walker was a Civil War surgeon who wouldn't take "no" for an answer when the Union army told her she couldn't help in their field hospital, and was even a prisoner of war for a time. Seriously, where's her movie?)


  • Princess Power: 4 Stars
  • Overall: 4 Stars
  • Bechdel Test: Fail

Learn about my Ratings System.

Book List

Book Covers

My TBR list is growing out of control, but here are a few that I wanted to mention:

The Rose Code, by Kate Quinn, is another historical novel from the author of last-year's awesome The Diamond Eye. The novel centers around three women who become codebreakers during WW2.

I started but got distracted from A Woman of No Importance, by Sonia Purnell. This non-fiction account tells the story of Virginia Hall, an American spy in WW2. Hall was a complete badass heroine who once topped the Gestapo's most-wanted list. A Call to Spy touched on her story a bit, but didn't do it justice. Why Hollywood hasn't given her a movie of her own yet is beyond me. A version starring Daisy Ridley was talked about back in 2017, but seems to be stuck in development limbo.

When the World Goes Quiet, by Gian Sardar, is a novel set at the tail end of WW1. In it, an artist is approached for a dangerous mission for the resistance. There aren't a lot of WW1 stories featuring women, so this one caught my interest.

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Mom. Writer. Gamer. Geek.
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