The Netflix series “Women at War” pays tribute to countless women who broke free from their gender roles to serve their country indirectly. While the men were called to the battlefield, women took on the responsibility of running the fields, factories, and hospitals. The limited series focuses on four French women whose relentless service to their countrymen saves hundreds of lives. The characters are not based on any particular real-life figure; they are an amalgamation of multiple stories of women who dedicated themselves to serving their country. “Women At War” takes place in Saint-Paulin in 1914 when French soldiers were attempting to keep the German invasion from reaching Paris.
‘Women at War’ Plot Summary: What Is The Series About?
The police were on the lookout for an abortionist, Suzanne Faure. She was involved in conducting illegal abortions and was responsible for the death of a woman who happened to be the wife of Detective Compoing. Smuggler Jeanne Charrier hid Suzanne in her truck and was set to drop her in Switzerland. But when Compoing got a whiff of their secret, he followed their truck and fired shots at them. Jeanne was shot, and the truck came to a standstill. Compoing came looking for Suzanne and questioned Jeanne about her. Suzanne stood right behind him and knocked him out. They managed to reach a village near Saint-Paulin, where they were hosted by a local family. Suzanne decided to get medical supplies from the Saint-Paulin church to tend to Jeanne’s bullet wound. She carried Jeanne’s identity papers to produce them in case she was caught in the act. Upon returning, she discovered that the entire family, along with Jeanne, had been murdered by the German army.
Marguerite de Lancastel reached Saint-Paulin in search of work. She decided to work out of the Dumont house, operated by Marcel Dumont and his sister Yvonne Dumont. She was not new to the sex business, and she readily agreed to the exploitative terms and conditions laid out by Marcel. It is gradually revealed that Marguerite was not there for business but for a secret mission. She carried maps and befriended army men to reveal the location of their quarters. While it was tough to convince an army man to give away his secret location, one of them fell for her charm and gave it away. Why was she curious about the army quarters? Was Marguerite a German spy, or did she have a personal reason behind her mission?
It was not easy for Caroline Dewitt to watch her husband, Victor, leave his family and factory to contribute to the ongoing war. While Victor could have easily avoided joining the front line, he wanted to be useful to his country. He trusted Caroline to make sound decisions on his behalf and handed over the responsibility of the factory to her. His mother was not pleased with his decision. She never liked Caroline; she tolerated her only for Victor and her granddaughter, Madeleine. Soon after Victor left, Caroline was notified that the workers at the factory were not exempted from joining the front line. They were called to serve their duty to the nation, and the factory came to a standstill. Without the completion of a pending order, they did not have the money to pay the workers’ families. Charles, Victor’s brother, stepped in, announcing that he would take charge of running the factory. He proposed producing ammunition, but Caroline knew that was not what Victor would have wanted. She wanted to make decisions that her husband would be proud of, but she had to figure out a way to be sustainable even as a truck-producing factory.
Mother Agnes, a nun who had devoted her life to serving God, worked endlessly to help the injured soldiers who were brought into the church. She was not a trained nurse, but she did all that was in her capacity to help Doctor Joseph Duvernet. Dr. Joseph was in charge of treating the wounded soldiers brought into the Saint-Pauline church. The church was converted into a hospital to better serve those who needed medical assistance the most. Mother Agnes struggled to cope with the overwhelming sense of loss that she experienced as innocent villagers were murdered mercilessly. She questioned her path and wondered if she was on the right track, but every time God gave her a reason to stay back.
How Did Caroline Decide To Restart The Factory? Why Was Charles Against Caroline’s Plan?
Caroline realized that the only way to keep the factory running was by fulfilling the pending order. She offered the wives of the factory workers to complete the remaining work that was required to fulfill the order. That was the only way to pay workers for their labor. The wives initially did not trust Caroline since they blamed her for their present condition. But eventually, they agreed to complete the work that their husbands had started in the hopes of getting paid. On the other hand, Charles was desperate to produce ammunition in the factory. After getting fired from the Ministry in Paris, he was called to join the front line, and he was ready to do whatever it took to avoid joining the army. Taking control of the factory was his only way to stay. While the factory was his last resort to protect himself, for Caroline, running the factory was about staying true to her husband’s beliefs. She knew Victor would never approve of the production of ammunition when thousands of men were dying in war every day. The women dedicated themselves to completing the order, and they successfully managed to produce high-quality trucks. For Charles, it was a challenge now; he had already put in the money to convert the factory, and he could not let Caroline destroy his plan. With the help of Marcel, he managed to convince Mr. Laveyre to reject the order. The rejection left the Dewitt family with only one choice—they had to agree with Charles’s plan.
Caroline was not ready to bow down yet; when she realized that there was a massive scarcity of ambulances, she knew what she wanted to do. She decided to convert the trucks into ambulances. She discussed the plan with General Duvernet, who agreed to test the vehicles. She spoke to the wives again, and in return for their labor, she offered them her heirloom jewelry. Charles had no other option left and was forced to watch Caroline succeed. Marguerite brought along with her sex workers who were thrown out of the brothel after they were found with syphilis. The factory was now run by women, and the ambulances were of immense help to the French army. Caroline was recognized for her good work, and the factory ran smoothly again. In the meantime, news of Victor’s death reached her. She hid the news from Eleonore, knowing that Charles would try to sabotage her plan the moment he took over control of the factory. Eleonore was devastated when she received the news. The distance between her and Caroline widened, and Charles was determined to completely destroy Caroline.
What Was Marguerite’s Secret? Why Did She Join Forces With Caroline?
Upon learning the secret location of the quarter, Marguerite watched the army men from a distance. She had her eyes on a particular soldier who seemed to be her long-lost family. A group of soldiers found Marguerite in the woods spying on the quarters, and they brought her to Marcel. They warned Marcel to keep his workers in check. Meanwhile, when she was away, Yvonne thoroughly searched every corner of her room. She grabbed her bag and found hidden maps along with her belongings. Marcel questioned Marguerite about the maps, and she rejected his claim about her being a spy. He found a photo of a man in her belongings, and through her expression, he realized that the person must be her family. He later went to the quarters and inquired about the man in the picture. He learned that the young man was Lieutenant Colin de Renier. He invited him and his friends to his brothel. The men from the army came to the brothel later that night, and Marcel specifically asked Marguerite to cater to the guest of honor. Marguerite was shocked to find Colin there, and she refused to indulge in any sexual activity with him. She later walked up to Colin and apologized for her behavior. He established that it was his friends who brought him to the brothel and that women such as Marguerite were not his type. Marcel concluded that the events of the night suggested that Colin must be Marguerite’s long-lost son, who had no idea about his mother’s identity. Marcel knew that he could use her secret against her if she ever chose to outsmart him.
Marguerite and Caroline’s friendship goes way back. Caroline used to be a sex worker, just like Marguerite. They were the best of friends who dreamed of leaving their professions to live fulfilling lives. But Caroline knew that Marguerite did not have the courage to leave it all behind. So, she decided to leave with her regular client, Victor. He knew her entire truth and loved her for who she was. Marguerite and Caroline used to be lovers as well, and she could not forgive Caroline for her betrayal. She had spent days searching for Caroline and was devastated to be left all alone. When they met each other in Saint Paul, Caroline explained that she did not have the courage to say goodbye. When Victor proposed to her, she agreed, knowing that she could finally live a respectable life. Even though it was not easy to put their past behind them, Marguerite asked for her help when the girls at the brothel lost their only source of income. Together, they teamed up to form the ambulance service, employing those who had lost all hope in life. When Caroline reached out to Marguerite to provide her with emotional support, they shared a kiss. Even though years had passed, their lives had changed, and they each had their own troubles to deal with, they found comfort in each other’s company.
Why Did Suzanne Decide To Stay Back? Who was Lucien Charrier?
The helpless cries of the wounded soldiers and the exhausting condition of all those working at the Saint-Paulin church to save their lives compelled Suzanne to stay back. She had a train ticket to Switzerland and a stress-free life awaiting, but she chose to serve France even though she knew she would be sentenced to death if her identity was ever revealed. She could not leave Doctor Joseph alone after watching how laborious it was for him to deal with the overwhelming number of patients. She was a trained nurse with a genuine interest in surgery, and Doctor Joseph needed her expertise. After working on several cases together and going through immense emotional turmoil, they started to find comfort in one another. Though Suzanne was aware that he did not even know her real name and the crime she committed. Mother Agnes doubted Suzanne the moment a French official inquired about her. She knew Suzanne by the name of Jeanne Charrier and decided to find out more about her at the previous hospital she worked at. The hospital informed her that they never had a nurse named Jeanne Charrier. Mother Agnes asked them about Suzanne, and they confirmed that she worked there and was wanted for conducting illegal abortions. She wanted to inform the police after discovering her truth, but when Agnes saw how devotedly she helped the wounded heal, she could not turn Suzanne over to the authorities.
A man named Lucien Charrier came to Saint Paul’s church looking for Jeanne Charrier. Suzanne walked up to him, and he stated that she was not his wife. But instead of giving her up to the authorities, he asked her to continue pretending to be Jeanne Charrier. In return for keeping her secret safe, she had to do whatever he asked of her. He was an air pilot, but Suzanne eventually realized that he was working for the Germans. Suzanne could not bring herself to betray her country, and she tried to resist him multiple times, but upon learning his truth, she did not have much choice. He explained that the Germans had his daughter, and they would release her only if he could provide them with intel. He wanted to use Suzanne to get close to President Poincare and gather information. He and Jeanne used to work for French intelligence, and they were given fake identities as a couple. But someone who knew the truth disclosed his secret to the Germans, and they stormed into his house, murdered his wife, and kidnapped his daughter. Even after gaining Poincare’s trust and learning all about France’s plan, he could not betray his country. He chose to sacrifice himself to protect his daughter and France. His plan was to force the Germans to hand over Claudine to him, and Suzanne would drive her to Saint Paul. When the Germans arrived, he grabbed hold of one of them and threatened to kill him if they did not obey his demand. Claudine was returned to Lucien, and she got in the truck with Suzanne. Meanwhile, Lucien had a grenade in his hand; he knew that if he allowed the man to escape, he would be shot immediately. He would die either way, so he chose to make it worthwhile. He chose to activate the grenade, killing the German group along with himself. Claudine was completely shattered when she realized the extent to which her father went to protect her. She was taken to Saint Pauline and was admitted to an orphanage in Nancy.
Why Did Mother Agnes Punish Herself? Who was Till von Hoffstatten?
Mother Agnes’s life changed the moment she came across a man without clothes in the woods. The man was traumatized and could not speak. She brought him to the church and tended to his wounds. There was an emotional connection between the two. She was his angel who saved him when he had no hope, and Agnes could not ignore all that he tried to say with his eyes. She could feel her body react to his touch, and even though she knew it was forbidden, she could not stop herself. When Dr. Joseph declared that the men who had recovered physically were to be sent back to the front line, Agnes knew that it would be the end of her man. Even though he had recovered physically, he was suffering mentally. She decided to secretly provide shelter to the ones who were mentally unfit to go back to war. Suzanne informed Dr. Joseph of Agnes’s secret, and he lost his calm. While Suzanne supported Agnes, Joseph was not ready to allow physically fit men to shy away from their duties. He stated that the men were to be sent back to the front line. Agnes could not forgive Suzanne for going behind her back and involving Dr. Joseph. She was prepared to call the police and disclose Suzanne’s secret, but just then, Suzanne rushed into her office and announced that she was able to convince General Duvernet to allow those suffering mentally to stay back. Whenever Agnes thought of surrendering to Suzanne, she gave her reason to trust her.
When the man was about to leave the church, he finally spoke to Agnes. He wanted to share his truth for quite some time, but he never got the opportunity to do so. He stated that his name was Till von Hoffstatten, and he was German. Agnes was shocked to find the truth. He added that he was not interested in contributing to the war after seeing the horrific tragedies that the war brought into everyone’s lives. Agnes sympathized with him; sheltering a German soldier could end her life, but she could not refuse to help someone because of their nationality. He was a human being who deserved a second chance, and she decided not to deny it to him. After the men were allowed to stay, the relationship between Agnes and Till intensified. She physically and emotionally desired him, and he, too, felt the same way. One night, he knocked on her door, and Agnes could not stop herself from inviting him in. They ended up making love, though she regretted breaking her vows and punished herself for it. What she did not know was that someone had watched her and Till together that night through a hole in her door. Someone knew her secret, and she could be brutally punished for not just breaking her vows but for betraying her country.
‘Women At War’ Ending Explained: What Happened To Caroline, Agnes, Suzanne And Marguerite In The End?
Juliette witnessed Caroline and Marguerite kiss that day. She was never satisfied working at Caroline’s factory, and she hoped that her secret would help her get closer to Marcel and go back to her usual business. Marcel informed Charles about Caroline’s past, and he knew it was all he needed to throw her out of their house. Prior to receiving this information, Charles had injured his hand, hoping to get away from joining the front lines. His hand was amputated, and it became obvious that he did it to avoid his duty toward his country. Charles was declared the owner of the factory, though he had lost the confidence of his mother. To win the trust of his mother, he sat down at the dinner table and discussed Caroline’s past in front of her. Eleonore was disgusted and asked Caroline to leave their house forever. Charles finally felt a sense of success; he was able to prove to his mother that he was the only one she could trust. Eleonore forbade Caroline from taking Madeleine with her. Madeleine locked herself in a room, refusing to talk to her grandmother. Eleonore emotionally stated that Madeleine was all that she had, making Charles envious of the little girl. He later went to her room and informed her that her mother would be waiting for her at the bear cave. He instructed her to leave the house carefully without informing her grandmother. The bear cave was captured by the Germans, and Charles was aware of how dangerous the place was. When Eleanore could not find Madeleine, Caroline went out in search of her. She was handed over a drawing she had made of the bear cave, which indicated that she must have gone there. The bear cave held fond memories for Madeleine; it was the place she went to with her mother as a little girl before the German invasion. Caroline found Madeleine in the c ave, but the Germans followed them. Luckily, a German soldier decided to let them go, and Madeleine returned home safely. She informed Caroline that it was Charles who had asked her to go to the cave. Eleonore was appalled to learn that her son had plotted to bring death upon her grandchild. Charles had lost her love, trust, and respect. He had lost the game, after all. Out of frustration, he destroyed the “happy family” picture of Caroline, Victor, and Madeleine. He could never earn the respect that his brother did in his lifetime; he could not restart the factory the way Caroline did, and he even lost his mother’s affection for Madeleine.
Meanwhile, Yvonne asked Juliette to plant drugs in Marguerite’s belongings after she was told that the army officials were in search of the drug seller who had sold it to the army men. She wanted to pin the blame on Marguerite. Juliette agreed to carry out Yvonne’s plan, hoping that she would be taken back by Marcel. She had fallen in love with Marcel and wanted to prove her loyalty to him. The police arrested Marguerite and Caroline for using their ambulance to deliver drugs to the army. Marcel lost his cool when he learned the truth. He pushed Juliette out of sight, and he plotted to get back at his sister. He was attracted to Marguerite, but he realized that his sister had always created a distance between him and the women he loved. He believed that she was the reason for his misfortune. After being rejected by Marcel and insulted by the ambulance drivers, Juliette confessed the truth to the police and Marguerite and Caroline were allowed to walk free.
With time, Marguerite had formed a healthy relationship with her son, Colin. He admired her for her courage and respected her for serving the country in her own way. Whenever there was an attack, Marguerite would always search for her son and help his wounded friends. Colin did not know who Marguerite was, but he started to believe that she was a sex worker who cared for him and whose presence had always been rewarding to him. He had fallen for her and approached her to kiss her. Marguerite was shocked by the turn of events. She decided to stay away from him and never disclose the truth, but Marcel did it on her behalf to get back at her. She tried to explain herself and the conditions that led to the life she chose, but Colin was not ready to listen to his mother. No matter how hard she tried, it was impossible for her to win his trust. Colin was with the foot soldiers when the Germans started to close in on the French army. He was shot, and he cried in pain. Marguerite risked her life to reach out to her son. While searching for him, she was shot in the stomach. She collapsed, but she saw her son lying close to her. She stretched out her hand to hold him one last time. Colin held her hand and soon realized that she had passed away. Colin was rescued by the emergency team; he broke down as he watched his mother lying lifeless on the ground. Colin was her only family, and uniting with him had always been her dream. In the end, she won the love and trust of her son, and she died in peace holding his hand.
Louis Compoing had traveled to Saint-Paulin when he came across the picture of Suzanne among the four women who were honored for their service to their country. Suzanne performed surgery on Dr. Joseph after he was stabbed by Lucien Charrier for attempting to stop him from taking her away. After the successful completion of the surgery, she was informed that he was losing consciousness due to massive loss of blood. She decided to perform a blood transfusion since it was the only way to revive him. She asked General Duvernet to donate his blood for the transfusion. While she was busy trying her best to help Dr. Joseph, Compoing pointed a gun at her and asked her to accompany him to the police station. General Duvernet and Mother Agnes requested the man wait until the completion of the surgery. While Suzanne focused on conducting the transfusion, Agnes discussed with Compoing how his need for vengeance would affect the functioning of the hospital. Suzanne might have been unsuccessful in saving his wife’s life, but she managed to save dozens more after the incident. She was a reliable nurse who dedicated herself to serving her country. Even though it was tragic for him, Agnes believed that God had decided to send Suzanne to serve those in need. Compoing realized that there was no point in taking Suzanne to the station. She had saved a life in front of him, and he could not question her skill. She explained that even though she had tried her best to save his wife that day, she could not. She wanted an abortion after giving birth to six children, but she did not have the courage to confront her husband.
Suzanne no longer had reason to run away and hide; she dedicated herself to catering to the wounded army men. She formed a romantic relationship with Dr. Joseph, and the two worked at the hospital even when the Germans were closing in on Saint Paul. They refused to back down and decided to serve their country till the very last moments of their lives.
Mother Agnes punished herself for breaking her vow. She begged for forgiveness from Christ and stopped talking to Till. He eventually decided to leave the church, realizing the trouble his presence had caused in her life. She wanted to run away with him and give up on her holy journey, but soon she found a reason to stay behind. One night, when Till informed her that he was leaving, she went out in search of him but instead witnessed the father of the church copulating with Genevieve, a novice. When she later questioned Genevieve about it, she explained that it was a way to find God. Agnes comforted her and made her realize that the father was taking advantage of her. She later disclosed that she had last menstruated three months ago, and Agnes concluded that she was pregnant. Genevieve disclosed the truth to the father, and he instructed her to get the child aborted. He explained that the child was proof of Genevieve’s sin, and she could only continue on the path of God after aborting the child. Agnes confronted the Father and informed him that she would involve the Diocese to bring justice to Genevieve. He was unaffected by her statement and proceeded to reveal that he knew her truth. Agnes could do nothing but maintain silence, and Genevieve eventually committed suicide. After Genevieve’s death, other novices wanted to speak the truth, and Agnes decided to contact the Diocese. When she discussed the truth with the archbishop, he informed her that there was no evidence and that the novice who had agreed to speak the truth had opted for a transfer. He added that he was aware of Agnes’s secret and that if the truth were revealed, she would lose her life. The father was to be transferred to another institute. In the confession chamber, Agnes threatened the Father. She stated that she would warn every woman in whichever institute he next went to about his past activities. As long as she was alive, she would keep her eyes on him and make sure that no other women were harmed.
Caroline, Madeleine, and Eleonore left the house as the German advanced toward Saint Paul. Before leaving, Eleonore searched for her son, but he was nowhere to be found. Charles hid behind a tree and waited for the Germans with a pistol in his hand. The previous night, when his mother exclaimed that she would have preferred him dying instead of Victor, he realized that he had nothing to lose. He had lost all respect, and only by staying put and not running from his duty could he die with dignity. When the Germans entered his property, he shot them from behind. He managed to bring down two soldiers before being shot to death. All his life, he had been selfish, but in the end, he decided to give up his life for a greater cause. “Women at War” ends with the four women trying their best to do whatever was in their capacity to help during the war. Suzanne and Agnes worked at the hospital, Marguerite died while trying to save her son and other wounded soldiers, and Caroline’s ambulance service not only helped countless wounded soldiers but also helped women earn money to feed their families. The limited series narrates the story of those women who fought against prejudice and went beyond their assigned roles to serve their countries.
“Women at War” is a 2023 Period Drama series created by Cecile Lorne.