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Review: Operation Mincemeat – “Excels as a film about deception and espionage”

OPERATION MINCEMEAT (2022) Matthew Macfadyen as Charles Cholmondeley, Colin Firth as Ewen Montagu and Johnny Flynn as Ian Fleming. Cr: Giles Keyte/See-Saw Films, Courtesy of Netflix

There’s no shortage of Second (and First) World War stories in the British film landscape. Ranging from big action thrillers (Dunkirk) to the tense cerebral mind games of espionage and tactics like The Imitation Game, all while tugging at the heartstrings. Operation Mincemeat floats towards the cerebral, with the air of a dark comedy blowing over it. Focused on the plan to plant a cadaver in Spain with fake military plans to trick Nazi Germany into going to the wrong place for an Allied assault, the film stars an enviable cast including Colin Firth, Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton, Johnny Flynn, Jason Isaacs and the late Paul Ritter. There’s not a cast member who puts a foot wrong in this film, from the big names to the small parts (Nicholas Rowe puts in a memorable performance) it’s a great turn by everyone.

Operation Mincemeat is another film delayed by the pandemic but is now out and does deserve the big screen outing. Starting off with Colin Firth’s Ewen Montagu celebrating his retirement before he is recruited to lead the operation. There’s an element of a heist film when the various deceptive operations are listed out, where they initially dismiss the idea of using a dead body to trick the Nazis. Ewen pushes for the plan and is joined by Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn) who is keen to see the plan work – leading to many funny James Bond references. As the plan develops Ewen begins to clash with his collaborator Charles (Matthew Macfadyen) over personality and their co-worker Jean (Kelly Macdonald). It’s an odd and fairly mature love triangle but it does feel like it doesn’t belong in the film as it is distracting from what is an interesting story anyway.

The team, despite their dysfunctions, work through the plan and build a fake captain with a fake history, girlfriend and most key –fake plans in the short time it takes before the body starts to decompose. The film is methodical in showing these key points without being boring, building momentum until we get to the moment when the body is planted at sea. From here the film really picks up pace as the plan is hit with many curveballs and unknowns – will the plans end up in the hands of a German officer who wants to stop Hitler and hide the plans, not knowing that giving them to Hitler will actually help bring him down? Or will the plans wash away at sea? Or will the Nazis see through the deception? All of this is enough to keep you on the edge, even if you already know the answer.

Funny, dark and good-natured it’s a mature film that doesn’t give everyone a happy ending, staying loyal to the real people it is based on, including Glyndwr Michael whose body was used under the fake name Major William Martin – the man who never was. Operation Mincemeat excels as a film about deception and espionage, not the intensity of a John le Carré novel but a more gentle and complex story that tangles and untangles throughout.

Operation Mincemeat is in UK cinemas today – 15th April 2022.

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One Comment

  1. No doubt this remake of Operation Mincemeat will be great entertainment but as with many war and espionage thrillers it’s a shame the film industry is producing yet another remake of a classic. If success is to breed success the film industry must not polish old gems but mine for new ones. In these genres, an example of such a new gem is Beyond Enkription, the first fact based spy thriller in The Burlington Files series. I only mention that because, coincidentally, some critics have likened its protagonist to a “posh Harry Palmer”, the subject of yet another recent remake. Anyway, the first novel in the series is indisputably anti-Bond, sophisticated and worth checking out. Not being a remake this enigmatic and elusive thriller may have eluded you.

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