Nancy Wake was one of the most courageous and wanted Nazi resistance movement women in Europe, fearless in her fight against the Nazi Germans.
Like many young New Zealanders, she ventured far from her homeland, becoming one of the most celebrated women for her wartime efforts.
And now the actress playing the heroine in the upcoming Sunday Theatre movie Nancy Wake: The White Mouse, is honoured to be portraying Nancy’s strength and determination in this documentary-drama.
This week, Rachael Blampied takes to our screens to show the Wellington-born journalist’s courageous escape from France in order to join the Nazi resistance. Described as having “run rings around the Gestapo”, she left behind the greatest love of her life, her husband Henri Fiocca, a wealthy French industrialist.
“Nancy had the attitude of ‘let’s just get this done’, which is very Kiwi. Any day could have been her last but I don’t think that affected her modus operandi at all! She was fearless,” says Rachael (28).
In 1943, at the height of World War II, Nancy joined the Special Operations Executive, leading the French Maquis resistance, risking her life and the lives of those close to her.
She topped the Gestapo’s most-wanted list, with a five million-Franc price on her head, but even that did not stop her in her fight for freedom against the Nazis.
Rachael, who shot to fame as Bree Hamilton on Shortland Street, recently celebrated the success of the short film Pants on Fire, which she produced.
It was named the national winner of this year’s 48-hour Film Festival. Yet, she says, depicting the most poignant Kiwi love and war stories of our generation has been her biggest feat to date.
“I was in Sydney with my mum when my agent asked me to audition. I knew Nancy was The White Mouse and she’d made an extraordinarily long bike ride [Nancy cycled 500km over 71 hours through German checkpoints]. But I found out there was a lot more to her than that!”
The NZ On Air-funded programme tells of Nancy’s wartime adventures with commentary from those who knew her until she died, at the age of 98, in 2011.
“I didn’t watch any other movies about her life as I didn’t want to cloud my impression of her,” says Rachael. “I hope she would be proud of the production and give it her blessing.”
With filming locations in Wellington, around Queenstown, Alexandra and Clyde, the movie was shot in just 10 days.
“We have such beautiful scenery in New Zealand so it was easy to create a French feeling. In Lauder, there was a French guy living on an incredible property with old stone buildings and thatched roofs,” explains Rachael, who went to many extremes in the role, even re-living the moment when Nancy parachuted into France.
“I was hoisted into a tree, with a parachute and safety wires strapped to me. It was funny to film, but probably not so funny for Nancy at the time. She wasn’t a big fan of parachuting,” says Rachael.
“She could flirt surreptitiously with a Nazi but didn’t like jumping out of planes!”
Then there was the physical transformation Rachael underwent for the role.
“Going from blonde to dark helped me see myself more like Nancy and the costumes were just amazing. I immediately felt like I was in the 1940s.”
Rachael admits she’s taken a few fashion cues from Nancy. “That era suits me,” she says. “She wore flattering shapes and beautiful fabrics. It made me think I should wear more of that style as I’m Nancy’s shape.”
And, like Nancy, Rachael has a passion for French culture. “I like wine, cheese and to have a good time!” she laughs.
“I’m trying to convince my boyfriend Simon to go to Europe this year. I spent a month in France in 2007 and visited Marseille, where Nancy lived. In the film, Nancy stays at Hotel Du Louvre and I even stood in the foyer of the real hotel while I was in France!”
Rachael, who makes a cameo appearance on this season of Agent Anna, is also playing All Black Stephen Donald’s girlfriend in The Kick – the TV movie depicting his Rugby World Cup success.