License to Kill
Christine Granville was a Polish beauty queen who became one of Britain’s most valuable spies. Emma Garman on her tragic death.
In the summer of 1952, the brutal murder of a woman in a Kensington hotel shocked Britain and sparked a media frenzy: no ordinary victim, Christine Granville was a Polish beauty queen turned British secret agent, the newspapers breathlessly revealed, a countess by birth whose remarkable bravery during the Second World War had saved countless lives. But the sensationalist cover stories couldn’t hope to capture the full tragic irony of Christine’s sordid, pointless death at the hands of a spurned lover. Over the course of her wartime career, a gift for repeatedly escaping the deadliest of situations—into which she walked with the eager nonchalance of a true adrenaline junkie—had conferred mythical status on the slender, dark-haired daredevil. Dying as a civilian in peacetime, with nothing and no one at stake, was an almost comically cruel twist of fate.
Not only did the hush-hush nature of Christine’s work mean that few specifics of her feats were known outside of espionage circles, but when she died, many of her friends conspired to draw a veil over the details of her life—in particular her spectacularly diverse romances, from which her intrepid exploits were often inextricable. The Panel to Protect the Memory of Christine Granville, for example, comprised five friends and former lovers who wanted to “defend her memory” and prevent her from becoming “a press sensation”; several biographies and articles were consequently quashed. While a few books about Christine have emerged in the intervening decades, only now, with the publication of Clare Mulley’s scrupulously researched and expertly rendered biography, do we have a multidimensional, uncensored, impartial portrait of the legendary spy—said to be Churchill’s favorite—whose 44-year existence was filled with more eye-popping adventures than we’d find plausible in any novel or movie.