Rating : ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Categorisation: War Spy Drama
Availability: In theatres
Plot: Operation Mincemeat (1943) was a highly unlikely, but nevertheless true, military deception that tricked Hitler and ultimately led an important Allied victory in World War II. This new film of the same name, and directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love; The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) has clearly been strongly influenced by the book Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory by Ben Macintyre (https://erenow.net/ww/operation-mincemeat/). I mention this, as there are apparent absurdities in the plot that make the film seem very silly in places – indeed it might even be dismissed as a preposterous exaggeration by filmmakers who have taken undue liberties with the truth. In reality, if Macintyre’s book is anything to go by, the film may even have tried to make the plot more plausible, something I will return to later. In any event, it tells the story of an outlandish plan by the British intelligence service to deceive their German counterparts into thinking that the Allies would attack Greece, rather than the expected target, Sicily. Diverting Germany’s attention away from Sicily would increase their chances of success, significantly advantaging allied forces in their efforts to make inroads into Europe. The ruse involves a dead body washing up on the shores of Spain, and the creation of a fictionalised identity of a man, Bill Martin, who would ultimately become a British hero.
Filming and Setting: The wonderful recreation of WWII London has the hallmarks of a quality production, and its attention to detail makes for splendid cinematography. There are excellent scenes that contrast the seriousness of combat in war, with the passionate but nevertheless detached activities of those working in intelligence, whose job it was to strategically outwit the enemy. Despite this, while Operation Mincemeat comes across as having all the marks of a sharp, contemporary production, it has an old-fashioned feel to it, almost as if it’s constrained within an 1950s filmmaking era that is characterised by derring-do antics…a melodrama without the pathos.
Cast: Four main characters drive the film’s action. Colin Firth is very good as the reserved Ewen Montagu, the British naval officer credited with leading Operation Mincemeat. By all accounts a privileged individual, Firth certainly looks the part and carries the role with aplomb. His romantic interest, Jean Leslie, a secretary in MI5 and played by Kelly MacDonald, is also very good. While they work well together, there is a lack of romantic chemistry between them, something that the film needed to pull off given it paid so much attention to their relationship. In Macintyre’s book there is evidence that during the time Ewen and Jean worked together at Naval Intelligence, each identified strongly with the two fictional characters in the ruse – Bill Martin, and his fiancée Pam. Simulating the roles, Ewen courted ‘Pam’ writing endless letters to her in the guise of Bill. Jean would write back to her imaginary fiancé signing herself off as Pam. It’s a relationship oddity that the film does not include, probably wisely since it seems implausible in the extreme. Instead, the film offers a soapy love triangle between three main characters, Ewen, Jean and Charles Cholmondeley the grounded flight lieutenant who originally came up with the Operation Mincemeat deception idea. This romantic subplot doesn’t work particularly well, despite a standout performance by Matthew Macfadyen as Cholmondeley, who does bring considerable depth to his character.
Personal Comments: Operation Mincemeat is very entertaining, amusing at times, and most certainly intriguing as it brings this extraordinary real-life story to the screen. Scarcely believable, despite being closely aligned with Macintyre’s research, it’s a story that might have come directly from the pages of a spy novel by Ian Fleming, who also makes a surprising appearance in the film. So if you like an historical war drama it’s certainly worth seeing, although you might find the love triangle a bit over the top. That said, if the filmmakers had gone entirely by the book, the truth may have been even stranger than fiction.