Film review: ‘OPERATION MINCEMEAT’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

British drama Operation Mincemeat is the fascinating story of possibly the most remarkable act of espionage and deception in the Second World War.

In 1943, the Allied forces were looking to invade Europe through what Churchill had called its ‘soft underbelly’ in Sicily. Unfortunately, Hitler was well aware that the Italian island was a likely avenue of attack. Consequently, an elaborate plan of deception was needed to convince him that the Allies had designs on another location, Greece. The responsibility for concocting a deception fell upon a so called ‘20 committee’, a mysterious group of ultra-high clearance military and other personnel drawn from various disciplines but not necessarily professional spies. One of the committee was QC barrister and British Admiralty recruit, Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) who, along with air force’s Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew MacFadyen), conjured the so-called ‘Operation Mincemeat’. As film plots carry almost as high a level of secrecy as military operations, I won’t reveal exactly what happens but suffice to say the plan involved a bizarre strategy to leak false information to the German High Command to trick them into believing allied forces were converging on Greece.

This film meticulously reconstructs the astonishing ruse which ended up being critical to the outcome of the war. Into this spy story, director John Madden (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) weaves, with varying levels of success, a number of personal dramas. Montagu’s wife has been spirited away to the US for fear her Jewish background may make her a target should Hitler succeed in invading England.  Montagu also faces scrutiny from British High Command due to his brother Ivor’s (Mark Gatiss) alleged communist links.  Also, Cholmondeley lives under the constant shadow of his brother’s death in what those around him call ‘the real war’ as opposed to his covert, dark war. In what feels like an unnecessary intrusion of soap operatics, the film draws them into a love triangle with the attractive colleague, Jean Leslie (Kelly MacDonald).

In addition to all this, one of the 20 committee members is none other than Ian Fleming and the film rather awkwardly shoehorns in various references to his nascent career as the Bond author, even having him muck around with a quirky gadget at Q branch.

Impressively, while it acknowledges the vital importance of this operation, the film is neither triumphalist nor black and white in its morality. It frequently reminds us that beyond the covert plans, strategies and maps are real people dying.  The film often critiques the sometimes-ruthless deceptiveness of the intelligence world.  The British head of military intelligence is depicted as a committed but somewhat sneaky, cynical and contemptible character and appropriately he’s played by the Harry Potter films’ Lucius Malfoy, Jason Isaacs.   The entire cast are, in fact, well suited to their roles with Firth again believable as a figure of flawed anxious decency, MacFadyen convincing as a slightly priggish and nerdy character with a heroic streak and Kelly McDonald (despite occasionally being relegated to love interest status) wonderfully determined as a free-thinking woman brought into this uptight male world.

One of the film’s few genuine drawbacks is its look.  Due to the use of digital video, the film suffers from the flat grey compositions affecting many films these days and it’s hard not to compare it unfavourably with the vivid and textured war films of the 1960’s.

Despite a couple of disappointing elements, this film is defined by the bizarre genius of the story, its strong lead performances and ultimately of its humanity toward those who died in this cause – the final scene, which honours someone consigned to the shadows of history for 50 years, is particularly moving.

Nick’s rating:    1/2.

Genre: Drama/ history/ war.

Classification: M.

Director(s): John Madden.

Release date: 12th May 2022.

Running time: 128 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show

 

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