In the real-life account of a British WWII intelligence unit’s attempt to break Hitler’s grip on Europe using high-risk diversionary tactics, led by John Madden, Kelly Macdonald and Penelope Wilton also play.
While traditional American war films emphasize courage, sacrifice and zealous patriotism, the British equivalent promotes heart and faith, duty and upper-lip resolve, especially in the vast repertoire country drama.
Fans of the latter will love Operation Mincemeat, a riveting tale of a complex World War II spy deception that helped turn the tide for Allied forces in Europe.
It’s a fine production with a top-notch ensemble cast, fusing the mystery of the story with a sad vein of melodrama, far more fitting than its macho-burger title might suggest.
The film was released in the UK on April 15, and Netflix released it in the US and other regions on May 11.
It’s a polished example of gently moving entertainment for WWII history buffs, similar to Lone Scherfig’s 2016 film Their Finest.
The inclusion of a pre-007 Ian Fleming as an aide to Admiral John Godfrey (steel Jason Isaacs), the head of British naval intelligence who became the inspiration for fictional MI5 boss “M”, in the James Bond novels, is a plus for aficionados of uniquely British espionage.
Fleming delivers the narration and is frequently seen hammering a typewriter at what audiences guess will form the foundations of his most famous career to come, played by a debonair Johnny Flynn with martini-dry humor.
One in two people working in British intelligence wants to play a secondary role as a spy novelist, it’s a running low-key joke.
The film’s weird-than-fiction title comes from a plot allegedly devised by Fleming and developed in 1943 by naval intelligence officers Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) and Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen).
Pressure on Britain to find a way into occupied Europe was mounting, and Churchill (a gruff Simon Russell Beale) had decided that Sicily would be the ideal “soft underbelly” in which to stage the invasion.
However, given the ease with which the Germans could predict this move, strategic military deception was necessary.
The goal was to plant documents revealing a fictional planned invasion of Greece on a body that would wash up on the coast of Spain, where Nazi agents would intercept the information.
The Man Who Never Was, based on Montagu’s book of the same name, was filmed by Ronald Neame in 1956 and starred Cliffton Webb and Gloria Grahame.
TV writer Michelle Ashford, whose credits include Masters of S** and The Pacific, turned historian Ben Macintyre’s book (which was also the subject of a 2010 BBC documentary) into this captivating and complete story.
His writing is a mix between a systematic account of sophisticated military deception and rich character portrayals of key players, giving viewers a direct interest in both battlefield operations and the human stakes of those working in the field. behind the scenes.
Montagu, a well-known lawyer from the Old Bailey, is introduced to a solemn moment at a state dinner, which guests mistakenly believe announces his retirement.
In truth, it’s a farewell for Ewen’s Jewish wife, Iris (Hattie Morahan), and their children, whom he takes to America to protect England from possible German occupation.
Ewen’s distance and intense dedication to his work developed a rift in the marriage, casting doubt on their future reunion.
While avoiding his nosy brother Ivor (Mark Gatiss), Montagu joins MI5’s Twenty Committee, where he finds a like-minded comrade in Cholmondeley, a former RAF pilot whose huge feet and terrible eyes drive him to refer to themselves as “a flightless bird”. .” Admiral Godfrey is skeptical of the chances of success of their ridiculous plan of deception, but Churchill approves of it, so they are put to work in an office in the basement.
The scenes in which Ewen and Charles attempt to make their plan foolproof by paying attention to every minute detail of the fictional naval courier Major William Martin, whom the Nazis must believe was shot down in the Mediterranean carrying strategic military information, are the most captivating. in the drama.
It begins with a quick search for the body of a drowning man, which Ashford injects with both humor and the sad acknowledgment that they are commandeering a lost human life.
They then work against the clock to organize the mission before the body decomposes, synchronizing their efforts with the movements of a submarine coming from Scotland which would release the body in Spanish coastal waters.
They are aided by Hester Leggett (Penelope Wilton), the fervent manager of the Admiralty’s Secretarial Unit.
This includes not only military credentials and identification papers, but also personal items such as a portrait of the major’s fiancée, a love letter, and even an engagement ring receipt.
This is where Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald), a brilliant and shrewd employee of MI5, comes in. In exchange for a place at the table, she offers to provide a picture of herself to serve as a sweetheart to Major Martin, whom they name Pam.
As the group fills in the details of not one but two entire lives, Madden and Ashford deftly blend elements of a caper with the dizzying thrills of making up fiction.
The formation of a delicate romantic triangle occurs as Widow Jean grows closer to Ewen late at night at the office or at their usual Soho watering hole, The Gargoyle Club, as the film moves into territory more realistic.
Although constrained by British reserve and propriety, their blossoming relationship arouses jealousy in Charles, leaving him vulnerable to Godfrey’s request to spy on Ewen, whose brother Ivor is a suspected communist sympathizer suspected of sharing secrets with the Russians. .
This subplot is just around an excessive amount, but the film’s desperate propensities and acute perception of the isolation of each of the four bosses make the most sensational installments both inclusive and influential.
The brilliant Macdonald is particularly exquisite as Jean warms to honorable considerations from Ewen, while Firth conveys the disturbing sentiments under his firm custom, his odd explicit proving very moving when he musters the courage to speak out.
This agrees nicely with the characterization of the story between truth and misdirection.
The irreplaceable Wilton brings his standard insight and cutting power to someone acutely aware of the relationship feelings between his partners while keeping the greater goal solidly at the center.
In any case, it’s Macfadyen, shedding the smarts that made him so especially beloved as Tom Wambsgans in Succession, who gives the champion exposition.
Behind his horn-trimmed displays and bland mustache, Charles is a comical yet restrained erratic, perhaps even longing for his legendary wartime brother, who died on uncharted soil and whose return for a proper burial awaits. turns into a tool of influence used by Godfrey.
The “immaculateness” of adoration between invented William and Pam and its sad outcome contacts each of them, but Macfadyen quietly erupts Charles’ implicit desire.
Thomas Newman’s pleasingly understated score promotes depth over anticipation, but the content ramps up the tension from the second the “choked up” body is piled onto a jackass truck in Huelva, and an overly fanatical nearby coroner takes measures to destroy a long period of careful preparation. .
The serious idea of sending 100,000 men to fight in Sicily in what could well be a trap supports this tension over time. Ashford’s entertaining eye for character detail is clear even late in the action, with the introduction of Captain David Ainsworth (Nicholas Rowe), a posh British specialist in Spain, ready to impart his charms for the purpose.
Shot profusely by Sebastian Blenkov in dark, bright tones befitting both the era and the mystery of the plot, this is a pleasingly older style film lifted by crisp composition, immaculate exposures and by an even more extraordinary story on the grounds that it really worked.