During WWII, two intelligence officers use a corpse and false papers to outwit German troops.
If there is one thing us Brits do well, it’s a good old fashioned WW2 drama, and ‘Operation Mincemeat’ sits very neatly in this category. This is the story of a covert operation during the Second World War, where a group of British intelligence officers initiated a daring piece of deception that played a significant part in helping to ensure a victory for the Allied forces. It involved a dead body carrying ‘secret’ documents being floated into Spain, in the hope they’d make their way back to German intelligence who would believe their contents – contents that would lead them to move their forces from Sicily (the real target) to Greece (the fake target), leaving it open to capture. Miraculously, this madcap idea actually worked.
To take us through this story we’re introduced to several of the key players, namely Ewan Montagu (Colin Firth) and Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen), two intelligence officers who make the case to pursue this plan. They are joined by Hester Leggett (Penelope Wilton) and Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald), who assist with the plan, and much of the film centres on their attempts to persuade others (including Churchill himself) of the merits of this plan, alongside how they actually set it up. Unusually for a war movie there’s a good dose of comedy and I liked that it acknowledges that the plan on paper is ridiculous, yet that the far fetched nature of it was perhaps key in its success. Firth and Macfadyen are both good (as an aside, it’s good to see Macfadyen getting larger roles after his stellar recent work in TV’s ‘Succession’), but I really struggled with Kelly Macdonald and whatever her attempt at an accent was. The least successful aspects of ‘Operation Mincemeat’ are those when it plays out a kind of love triangle between these three individuals, which feels out of sync with the rest of the material.
‘Operation Mincemeat’ is at its best when it leans into staples of the heist genre in setting up the plan and I loved all the sequences of briefcases being passed around, fake letters being brainstormed and dead bodies being assessed (yes, really!), particularly as the team have to adapt when things don’t go quite so smoothly in Spain. Director John Madden is in his element with these aspects of the movie and it hits that neat groove of being both great fun and very informative. The Bond references are a bit on the nose (Ian Fleming worked in intelligence prior to becoming a novelist and he is a character, and narrator, here, played by Johnny Flynn), but that’s a minor quibble with a well crafted film that pays tribute to an outlandish true story that just might have been one of the greatest acts of deception in history.
Directed By: John Madden
Starring: Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton, Johnny Flynn, Jason Isaacs, Simon Russell Beale, Paul Ritter, Mark Gatiss, Nicholas Rowe, Will Keen, Alexander Beyer, Hattie Morahan, Alex Jennings, Mark Bonnar and James Fleet