★★★★ - STUFF
- A great and gripping yarn as British as tea and crumpets -
The true story of Operation Mincemeat is so good, so engrossing and so made-for-cinema that there really isn’t really a lot that needs to be changed in order to get a movie out of it.
In order to fool the Germans into not reinforcing the coastline of Sicily – where they planned to invade, the British military really did come up with a plan to smuggle a corpse to the Spanish coastline, dressed and accessorised as an officer of the Royal Marines.
The body would have a briefcase full of secret documents, among which would be a personal letter from a – real – Lieutenant General to another senior officer, containing a short reference to an upcoming invasion of Greece – not Sicily – by the British and American armies.
A corpse was procured – an incredible and poignant story in itself – a port town was selected, with a resident German intelligence officer who could be relied on to bully the ostensibly neutral Spaniards into letting him have a peek at the briefcase – and the operation was launched.
Operation Mincemeat has already yielded one pretty great film – The Man Who Never Was – in 1956, a couple of very watchable documentaries and now this, which might be the best of the lot.
The Man Who Never Was was based on the memoir of Ewen Montagu, who was at the heart of the original plan in 1943. And Montagu, of course, omitted the fact that he had fallen head over heels for a young colleague – and that she had provided a photograph of herself posing as the sweetheart of the fictional officer.
While Montagu was immersing himself in the challenge of creating a credible young man out of this air and forged documents, he himself became besotted with the woman in the photograph that his creation would carry in his breast pocket.
It’s details like that, that lift this Operation Mincemeat out of the realms of smoky offices and clubs of your average wartime espionage thriller and into somewhere far more accessible, engaging and human.
When filmmakers are routinely foully abused – by me, anyway – for inventing love affairs to insert into real-life dramas, it was refreshing to find out that this part of the Operation Mincemeat script was absolutely genuine. As played out by Colin Firth and Kelly MacDonald, it gives this film a warmth and an absurdity that sits well within the material about the cold and deadly bluff the Brits were attempting.
Next to Firth, Matthew Macfadyen – yes, that’s two Mr Darcys in the same picture – is the quiveringly upright and splendidly monikered Charles Cholmondeley, Montagu’s right hand and trusted co-conspirator.
In yet another piece of life-being-better-than-fiction, the plan that became Operation Mincemeat was almost certainly originally hatched by James Bond creator Ian Fleming – who was an intelligence agent during World War II – played here by Lovesick’s Johnny Flynn.
A strong bench of Brit regulars – Jason Isaacs, Penelope Wilton, et al – round out a uniformly terrific cast.
Director John Madden (Shakespeare In Love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) is probably just about the best filmmaker alive (Roger Michell RIP) to pair with this material. Madden has a deft way with the mordantly witty and self-deprecating characters on display here. He handles the awkward affair with sympathy for all parties and avoids humiliating anyone, while the nuts and bolts of the spy-thriller and classic wartime drama within the script are as engaging and enthralling – and as blackly comic – as they need to be.
Operation Mincemeat is as British as tea and crumpets, but it is also a great and gripping yarn, superbly well laid-out.
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF
Operation Mincemeat is now playing at Light House Cinema!