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“Operation Mincemeat” appears to be a proper British spy drama, and it is, for the most part. It’s based on a true story of wartime daring and heroism, has a classy cast led by Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen, and a director in John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love,” the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” films) who’s made a name for himself with exactly this kind of solid, old-fashioned fare.
But the story is so absurd, and it’s told with enough surprises and dry humor, that it’s never boring. Imagine “Weekend at Bernie’s” set during WWII, with a dash of romance thrown in among the spycraft and physical gags, and you’ll get an idea of the difficult tonal balance this film achieves. “Operation Mincemeat” is named after the real-life mission that duped Hitler into thinking the Allies would invade Greece rather than Sicily in 1943. Ben Macintyre’s nonfiction book of the same name serves as the inspiration for TV veteran Michelle Ashford’s sprawling script. While the film may appear dense and restrained on the surface, the performances and attention to detail consistently bring it to life. Also, you must try to play this Operation Mincemeat Movie quiz.
Operation Mincemeat Movie Quiz
“Operation Mincemeat” also serves as an origin story for James Bond. One of the British intelligence officers behind this unlikely plan, Ian Fleming went on to create the iconic 007 characters based on his own experiences working in espionage. So, if you’ve ever wondered about the inspiration behind legendary figures like M and Q, you’re in for a treat. The film’s dramatic narration is provided by the charismatic actor and singer Johnny Flynn as Fleming, accompanied by the clickety-clack of his typewriter while the other members of his interagency intelligence squad get actual work done in their hidden headquarters. But who can blame the aspiring novelist for taking notes? This is just too juicy.
The scheme is led by Firth’s Ewen Montagu and Macfadyen’s Charles Cholmondeley, who secure a body, dress it in a military uniform, and dump it off the coast of Spain in the hope that it will wash ashore with a briefcase full of fake documents intact. A million small and large pieces must fall into place to ensure that this disinformation reaches the right people in order to deceive Hitler and break his army’s grip on Europe. And, as with any great heist film, much of the fun comes from watching the players execute their plan. In this case, that means fabricating a complete and airtight fictional identity and backstory for their deceased drifter. These brainstorming sessions between Montagu and Cholmondeley, clerk Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald), and secretary Hester Leggett (a lovely Penelope Wilton) have a snappy, lighthearted pace, but they also allow us to get to know these characters as it becomes clear that they’re not just playing a high-stakes game of make-believe. They’re imbuing the fictitious Captain William Martin with their own very real personalities, hopes, and regrets.
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They’re also making themselves vulnerable in a field where it’s all about fortifying your defenses. That includes the romantic bond that gradually develops between the widowed Jean and Ewen, who sent his wife and children to America to protect them because they are Jewish; early scenes imply that the couple’s marriage was already in jeopardy. Macdonald and Firth have a sweet, easy chemistry that is tinged with sadness and world-weariness. They’re both fantastic. But as it becomes clear that Charles has feelings for Jean, the burgeoning relationship becomes more complicated; Macfadyen is mostly stoic, but he gets to deliver plenty of wry zingers. As deceptions within deceptions emerge, mistrust begins to spread throughout the team.
As the team executes the mission and waits anxiously to learn whether it was successful, “Operation Mincemeat” becomes legitimately tense on both personal and professional levels. Tiny zigs and zags along the way could spell disaster at any time, and minor characters who appeared minor at first become major characters as they are forced to improvise. At times, you might wish Madden had taken the same risks as the masterminds behind Operation Mincemeat, but his film is still thrilling.