THREE AND A HALF STARS Desperate to turn the war around, British command hatches a plan so crazy it might just work. Can they fool Hitler long enough for their troops to succeed? PERIOD DRAMA UK #OPERATIONMINCEMEAT
Starring Colin Firth, Matthew McFadyen
The outline reads like an Ian Fleming novel, which is something of an in-joke since Commander Fleming himself is a key character in this so-crazy-it-must-be-true true-story. It’s 1942 and the British government desperately needs a plan to convince the Nazi’s they’re going to invade Greece when in fact they’re heading for Sicily. The idea, quite possibly cooked up by Fleming himself, is to drop a corpse off the shores of Spain. When the body washes up - dressed as a British agent and holding plans for the Greek invasion - his intel will be sent directly to Berlin. If they swallow the bait, they’ll divert troops away from Italy and allow Allied forces to change the course of the war. Churchill is on board.
Directed by John Madden (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE) this utterly compelling will-they-won’t-they yarn hits all the right notes. There’s comedy, pathos, high-stakes drama, a few guns, more than a few stiff-upper lips and a squeeze of unrequited passion. Being Madden, he’s amassed a sterling cast led by Colin Firth, Matthew McFadyen, Penelope Wilton, Kelly MacDonald, Johnny Flynn and Jason Isaacs as the team’s reluctant chief at MI5. M as it were, as he’s called behind his back.
Montagu (Firth) and Cholmondeley (MacFadyen) lead the team as they work feverishly to create a complete back-story for their corpse, a story that has to be airtight in order to work. It’s a task complicated by the growing fondness between Montagu and his colleague Jean (MacDonald), complicated because Cholmondeley rather fancies his chances as well. He also buys into M’s suspicion that Montagu’s brother is a communist sympathiser, and agrees to spy on his colleague for his boss.
Scriptwriter Michelle Ashford (TV’s Masters Of Sex) have given us very appealing pathways into the characters of people tasked with a devastatingly important job; thousands of lives are at stake. It also gives us a window on the ‘other war’, one not fought on the battlefield but in the rather comfortable clubs and restaurants of London, filled as they are with the guilt of men unable to fight. It’s grist for Fleming the novelist who becomes one of the best running jokes in the film. Everywhere a bewildered Cholmondeley looks there are ‘spooks’ and every one of them seems to be writing a novel.
Moments of light comedy aside, there are delicately layered themes at work here that give Madden’s film a real backbone. In lesser hands it could have easily become tritely prosaic and over-earnest but seasoned professionals have crafted something altogether more subtle, nuanced and touching. Classically framed in a ‘this-is-almost-the-end-now-flash-back-three-months-to-find-out-how-we-got-here’ style, OPERATION MINCEMEAT is, in spite of a wandering third quater, a delight throughout. Come for the impossible story, stay for the effortless story telling.