OPERATION MINCEMEAT (12A, 128 mins)
War/Drama/Romance. Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton, Johnny Flynn, Jason Isaacs, Simon Russell Beale, Mark Gatiss. Director: John Madden.
THE truth is protected by a bodyguard of lies in Operation Mincemeat, a handsome dramatisation of outlandish British counter-espionage during the Second World War informed by Ben MacIntyre’s book of the same title.
An extraordinary true story of subterfuge involving the corpse of a homeless man, posing as a fallen British agent in possession of classified documents, sustains bearably light tension over two hours in the assured hands of director John Madden.
The upper lips of a stellar British cast led by Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton and Jason Isaacs are visibly stiffened by Michelle Ashford’s script, which juxtaposes events in the Mediterranean in the summer of 1943 with personal rivalries and thwarted romance on blitzkrieged home shores.
A plummy voiceover from James Bond creator Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn), a lieutenant commander in the British Naval Intelligence Division at the time, skirts solemnity and earnestness and is occasionally distracting.
His prosaic narration is superfluous when Madden and cinematographer Sebastian Blenkov successfully conjure striking images of “battlefields in shades of grey” to a robust orchestral score courtesy of composer Thomas Newman.
In 1943, Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Simon Russell Beale) hopes to turn the tide against Hitler by landing 100,000 forces on Sicily’s southern shore, liberate the island then push up through Italy into occupied Europe.
Unfortunately, the Germans have caught wind of the manoeuvre.
British intelligence has just five weeks to play “a humiliating trick on Hitler” and avoid an Allied bloodbath by convincing the Nazis that the intended target for the incursion is Greece not Sicily.
Members of the Twenty Committee, which oversees MI5’s counter-espionage operations, assemble at 58 St James’s Street to agree a daring plan of action.
Inspired by a memo penned by Rear Admiral John Godfrey (Isaacs) and his personal assistant Fleming, agents Ewen Montagu (Firth) and Charles Cholmondeley (Macfadyen) conceive Operation Mincemeat.
The British will use a submarine to float the body of a drowned Allied airman into the clutches of the Fascist network in Spain.
The deceased will be carrying top-secret papers about the Greek offensive.
This disinformation strategy requires Montagu, Cholmondeley and their team including Hester Leggett (Wilton) and Jean Leslie (Macdonald) to invent a detailed back story for the fallen airman to hoodwink the enemy.
Operation Mincemeat stylishly evokes a period of paranoia and suspicion with pointed nods to codenames and gadgetry that Fleming would feed into Casino Royale in 1952 and subsequent 007 adventures.
Firth and Macfadyen aren’t stretched by the material but they are instantly relatable brothers in arms, beset by occasional pangs of jealousy.
A love triangle involving Macdonald’s spunky recruit, a ploy to forcibly insert one female character deeper into the story, is redundant and would have been acceptable collateral damage of the editing process.
3 out of 5