Sam Naz's Liberté pays welcome homage to Britain’s first Muslim war heroine Noor Inayat Khan

Sam Naz's Liberte
5 min read
08 September, 2022

It’s the silence that stands out.

It’s the moments when the lead character, Second World War heroine Noor Inayat Khan, played by actress Sam Naz, remains defiantly silent about the torture she is going through in short film Liberté, that you just can’t forget.

Liberté is Naz’s passion project. The freelance Sky News presenter is well-known in her industry for the hard news journalism she’s covered over the past 20 years.

She began her career as a BBC News trainee and she’s worked across radio, TV and digital platforms covering a myriad of stories including the war in Ukraine, mass shootings in the US and global terror attacks.

"Inayat Khan was a British Muslim secret agent who was sent by her handlers to her beloved France then occupied by the brutal Nazi regime. A wireless operative, she did ground-breaking work"

But for the past decade, whenever she’s had a moment spare, she’s been pursuing her passion to make sure the story of Inayat Khan was told in a way that paid homage to a figure who often would be on the periphery of war stories.

Inayat Khan was a British Muslim secret agent who was sent by her handlers to her beloved France then occupied by the brutal Nazi regime. A wireless operative, she did ground-breaking work.

She refused to give up her secrets when she was captured.  

Eventually, she was murdered at Dachau concentration camp, aged 30 on 13 September 1944.  Five years after her death, she was awarded a posthumous George Cross medal by the British government for her heroism.

But it is the period in which she is captured, that Naz, who also wrote the screenplay and produced Liberté, alongside director Christopher Hanvey, focus on in their short. Be warned for those watching it, there are graphic scenes.

When you speak to Naz, you hear the passion for the project: “Noor Inayat Khan is a fascinating and complex figure from history that I only found out about after stumbling across a newspaper article profiling several World War Two heroes.

“I couldn't believe that here was a woman of Indian heritage who looked like me and who had played such a vital part in the war effort. I just couldn't shake her story. I kept seeing her in my mind and the more I learnt about her loyalty, sacrifice and remarkable courage, the more she got under my skin.”

She adds: “Every new piece of detail I learnt about Noor's time in occupied France and her background (a descendent of Indian nobility, a Sufi Muslim, an accomplished musician and children's author) added to my desire to get this film made.”

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For Naz, whose parents are working-class immigrants who moved to Birmingham, England from Pakistan in the 1970s, sharing Inayat Khan’s story was also about the personal as well as the professional.

“Growing up as a minority and now working in an industry with so few people like me, I feel a real duty to ensure that minority voices are heard and little-known stories like that of Noor Inayat Khan are given prominence.”

Naz put her journalistic training to good use and dug out archive documents, listened to and read accounts from those who had known Inayat Khan. “I even retraced her steps in Paris where I visited her old family home and saw the beautiful memorial in the garden that's dedicated to her,” she says.

With Liberte, popular TV and radio personality Sam Naz has helped unearth the story of one of WW2's forgotten heroines [photo credit: Sam Naz]
Popular TV news personality Sam Naz has helped unearth the story of one of WW2's forgotten heroines [photo credit: Anarchy! Inc]

But why didn’t Naz decide to pursue the more conventional route of a documentary to share this story? She says: “After leaving the BBC [several years ago] and entering the world of freelancing, I decided to take acting classes to build my confidence and ended up loving the process.”

She adds: “I found it to be a more creative and visceral way of telling a story compared to daily news journalism. I immediately knew that this would be the perfect fit for me to explore Noor's story, which is something I'd wanted to do for over a decade.”

Much of the story that Naz’s film portrays involves just two characters – Inayat Khan and her tormentor, patronising SS intelligence officer Hans Josef Kieffer, played by Oliver Boot.

A photograph of secret agent Noor Inayat Khan [Crown copyright]
A rare photograph of secret agent Noor Inayat Khan [Crown copyright]

Naz also funded the film herself, saying it was important to make sure that those who worked on all elements got paid.  

But her project has started to gain significant attention. Naz says: “It screened in LA and at the prestigious St Louis International Film Festival and went on to qualify for consideration at this year's Oscars and BAFTA Film Awards.”

Watching the film, you can see the care Naz and director Christopher Hanvey, of ANARCHY! Inc, has taken with Inayat Khan.

They created the film at the height of the Covid pandemic and when the government lifted the first lockdown restrictions in England, the production team took the opportunity to safely shoot on set and in person.

Naz was also able to persuade Inayat Khan’s family to support her venture and her film stands out, not just because of her and Hanvey’s use of silence but because of the music used.

Naz explains: The music in Liberté is really special and I'm honoured to be able to include it. It's an emotive track called La Monotonia which was composed in Noor's memory by her younger brother Hidayat.”

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She was able to get permission after spending a significant amount of time tracking down the music copyright owner.

“I also got in touch with the Muslim Sufi community in the US which Noor's family, particularly one of her nephews, is still a big part of.  It was clear from the outset that my intention was to finally put Noor's story front and centre on film, not to sideline her.

“I think my own background, coming from a Muslim family, also helped to reassure them over the project. Noor's family were the very first people to see the film as soon as it was ready, and the response was something I'll never forget. To have them call Liberté ‘awe-inspiring and heart-wrenching’ and ‘a moving tribute’ was beyond anything I'd hoped for.”

Dhruti Shah is an award-winning journalist, writer, producer and storyteller. 

Follow her on Twitter: @dhrutishah