There’s more than meets the eye with Colin Firth’s Ewen Montagu in John Madden’s WWII thriller Operation Mincemeat. In sending his wife and children away from war-torn London, it’s clear to his dilettante brother (a criminally under-used Mark Gatiss) that Ewen isn’t trading in his legal briefs just to be some glorified maritime clerk – and he’d be right. For, in fact, Ewen, armed with Matthew Macfadyen as Charles Cholmondeley and Johnny Flynn as a young would-be novelist Ian Fleming, all have a scheme to sell to Churchill.
In order to win the war, English forces must re-invade Europe via Sicily – however, this is exactly what Germany’s Adolf Hitler is expecting them to do. Instead, he must be persuaded that Greece is their real intended target and in turn, Ewen and his MI5 gang have just the plan to do it. Float a dead body off the Spanish coast with fake invasion documents so as to convince Nazi Germany that the allies will attack Greece instead of Sicily.
Jason Isaacs’s as Ewen’s commanding officer doesn’t buy it, however, bristling with all the right kind of affectations, Simon Russell Beale’s Churchill does. Now duly put into action, can “Operation Mincemeat” really deliver the goods or will it just sink to the bottom of the sea?
... Simon Rusell Beale chomps down on Churchill harder than any cigar will allow.
Well, cast into this wintertime wilderness of mirrors, the initial omens for John Madden’s latest spiff-upper lip Brit-flick looked good. Johnny Flynn is spot as a cavalier, before-he-was-famous Ian Fleming, Penelope Wilton is great as Ewen’s office-wife cum longtime friend Hester Leggett and the aforementioned acting titan that is Simon Rusell Beale chomps down on Churchill harder than any cigar will allow. Yet with its initially David Hare-like dialogue fading away after only twenty minutes, sadly all you are left is an identikit love triangle between Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen and the joint apple of their eye, Kelly Macdonald, who holds the key to making Mincemeat palatable.
Whereas similar mad-cap wartime movies based on reality had clear visuals to work with – and I’m thinking of 1955’s evergreen The Dam Busters here – the same cannot be said of 2021’s Operation Mincemeat. With a story that was, for my money, much better told in Ronald Neame’s 1956 film The Man Who Never Was, director John McFadden’s latest movie starts well and then quickly falls to pieces.
Whilst Colin Firth is dependably decent as a man not given to gossiping like a fishwife and MacFayden looks suitably stung by cupid’s arrow, any real tension is quickly lost as soon as the cadaver hits the water. The reason for this is that any opportunity for two fascinating perspectives is lost. Whereas the film could have shown both sides of the story, with the selling of the lie and its belief (or not) by the German high command, history is only really served here from a British perspective. Instead, the movie’s back-and-forth love story is brought in to plug any leaks in your attention, but by this point, the enterprise has already been hulled and everything starts to list to the predictable side.
So, whilst history need not necessarily avert her gaze, Operation Mincemeat isn’t wholly sunk. Kept afloat wholly by such a prolific gathering of acting talent, this suspended moment is neither likely to transport away from the TV nor to the multiplex.
I’d say wait for it to find safe harbour on a prepaid streaming channel first.0