Operation Mincemeat – Film Review
by Hugh Maguire
Director – John Madden
Writers – Michelle Ashford (screenplay), Ben Macintyre (book)
Stars – Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald
Release Date – April 15, 2022
The unlikely title belies a thrilling tale of special agents and war-time effort to overcome the enemy. Based on fact, the story tells the incredible tale of behind-the-scenes struggles in the bowels of Whitehall, London. Soldiers, airmen and navy fight the physical fight that pushes the boundary of conquest or halts the enemy. Theirs is a world of bloodshed and horror, but behind these sometimes epic struggles are the psychological battles, which are every bit as horrific and stressful – hugely so when we consider the thousands of lives, indeed millions, that might be at stake from some otherwise simple decision.
Mincemeat was an actual incident in the Allied re-conquest of Europe, where through a sophisticated and complex project of deception, the German high command was convinced of a landing in Greece whereas, in reality, it all happened in Sicily. The real-life Ian Fleming (1908-64), of later James Bond fame, and then a naval intelligence officer was involved in the contrivance of this unlikely scenario, displaying the creative flair that stood him in such good stead. To achieve this deception a body was washed ashore on the coast of Spain, and through careful planting of false data, the ruse was swallowed by the Nazis. That makes it all seem simple and even crude, but it was calculated down to the finest detail and a whole back story was created for the hapless corpse washed ashore. We follow how this was contrived, his fictive military career, a circle of friends and loves, and in a great feat of storytelling, we share their development of the tale, the actual delivery of the project and the nerve-wracking tension of whether this will work or not. Knowing the outcome is neither here nor there because it remains edge of the seat viewing, all filmed with elegance and carefully handled limited palette range which adds to the period feel without feeling too contrived.
Is it an exercise in jingoism? Perhaps it is and the smartly uniformed, or besuited, Colin Firth has at times a King’s Speech demeanour, not least because of the film being set in the same period as his accomplished 2010 Oscar awarded performance. Who was to know that there would be such an element of urgency and topicality on the film’s release? Little did the director or cast anticipate a land war in Europe where large forces of evil threaten the lives of millions. And while our news channels are full of on-the-spot scenes of bombing and destruction there is little insight into what happens behind the scenes In the corridors of power, from Washington, Whitehall, Paris and indeed Moscow itself, a whole cast of hundreds are engaged in knife-edge decision making which can have far-reaching consequences. This film and the history on which it is based gives some idea of the pressures under which such figures operate.