OPERATION MINCEMEAT (2022) may sound like a horror movie about cannibals, but it’s not.
It’s a World War II period piece based on the true story of a top-secret espionage plot by British Intelligence which aimed at duping Hitler and the Nazis into believing the Allies were going to invade Greece rather than their intended target of Sicily.
Now available on Netflix, OPERATION MINCEMEAT tells the story of two intelligence officers, Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) and Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen) who face the arduous task of having to create a false narrative to make the Nazis believe something that they have no business believing, because conventional wisdom has it that the most strategic spot for the Allies to attack next is Sicily. They come up with the idea of having a corpse wash up on the shore of Spain where they believe the contents of the false plan which will be in the corpse’s possession will make its way to the Nazi leaders there who in turn will forward the information to Hitler.
Their superior officer Admiral John Godfrey (Jason Isaacs) thinks the plan is absolutely ridiculous and obvious, and that the Nazis would never fall for it, but Churchill (Simon Russell Beale) believes it is so obvious that the Nazis wouldn’t think the British would try something so blatantly foolish, and hence would then suspect the information as being real, and so he greenlights the project.
Ewen and Charles face complications from the get-go. For starters, their search for a suitable corpse proves nearly impossible, to which Ewen quips that he can’t believe they are in the middle of a war and they can’t find corpse for their needs anywhere in the country! Their attempts to photograph the corpse prove fruitless, as no matter how hard they try, they can’t make him look alive, and so they decide to then search for a live person who resembles the dead man and take pictures of him instead.
They have to create an entire back story for this man to make everything as realistic as possible, including creating an entire love story complete with love letters, and to this end they receive help from a key member of their team, Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald). Jean’s involvement eventually complicates matters as she and the married Ewen begin to share a chemistry together, while the single Charles also has eyes for her. Further complicating matters is Admiral Godfrey suspects Ewen’s brother of being a communist spy for the Soviets and orders Charles to spy on Ewen. Through all this, they do eventually create an entire back story for their corpse and do get him to the shores of Spain where the information is then picked up by the local authorities. From there, the plans must get to the Nazis in the hope that Hitler will believe the ruse and send his troops to Greece rather than Sicily.
OPERATION MINCEMEAT tells a fascinating story that if it weren’t true would be difficult to believe. I mean, no spoilers since this is history, but the ploy worked, and as meticulously mapped out in this movie by screenwriter Michelle Ashford, it was an incredibly tall order to pull off. So many things had to go right, and they did. Of course, a lot of it was because of the careful and relentless planning by Ewen and Charles. They prepared for everything, including inserting an eyelash inside the closed letter, so that when eventually the materials were returned and the letter unopened, when they opened it they saw the eyelash was gone, to which Admiral Godfrey laments that he wasn’t going to send British soldiers to their deaths based on one missing eyelash! The detailed screenplay was based on a book by Ben Macintyre.
OPERATION MINCEMEAT reminded me somewhat of another recent World War II espionage movie, MUNICH: THE EDGE OF WAR (2021). I actually enjoyed MUNICH somewhat more than OPERATION MINCEMEAT. As fascinating a story told in OPERATION MINCEMEAT, it often falls short in the emotion department. The film works more on an intellectual level. Also, while there are moments of dramatic tension, in terms of suspense, it’s a little more subdued than it could have been.
Director John Madden has made a handsome production that firmly fits the period, but in terms of driving the film forward to a riveting climax he tends to coast rather than speed.
Colin Firth is excellent as Ewen, and his personality kind of sets the tone for the entire movie, as he is dealing with all sorts of stress, both professional and personal, and he deals with it all subtly and politely.
Matthew Macfadyen is equally as strong as Charles, who is much more straightforward than Ewen and far less complicated. The two don’t always see eye to eye, but they put aside their differences and work well together.
Kelly Macdonald is very enjoyable as Jean, the widower who grows attached to Ewen even as she knows she shouldn’t.
Jason Isaacs is pompous and cranky as Admiral Godfrey. It’s another topnotch performance by Isaacs. And Simon Russell Beale is fun to watch as an irascible yet imaginative Winston Churchill. Isaacs and Beale also both co-starred in THE DEATH OF STALIN (2017), a film that gave both of them far meatier roles than here in OPERATION MINCEMEAT.
I also really enjoyed Penelope Wilton as Hester, Ewen’s exceedingly loyal secretary and valued member of the Mincemeat team. Johnny Flynn is also really good as a young cool and confident Ian Fleming who is also a member of the team. The film even provides some fun insights into the future James Bond author’s writing.
OPERATION MINCEMEAT is a polished World War II period piece drama that tells the unlikely yet true story of one of the greatest ruses pulled off during the war, a deception that fooled the Nazis into defending the wrong nation and enabled the British to successfully take over the strategic location at Sicily. While the movie sometimes lacks emotion and tension, it does feature topnotch performances and tells a fascinating story of a side of the war not always told, the intelligence side.
And in this case, intelligence means deception.