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Review: 'Operation Mincemeat' (2022) Dir. John Madden

Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton, Johnny Flynn, Jason Isaacs, Simon Russell Beale, Paul Ritter, Nicholas Rowe and Mark Gatiss


Based on the historical book by Ben Macintyre, this explores the factual operation of the Allied invasion of Sicily, where deception was the only option in breaking Hitler's Europe stronghold...

In the midst of World War II, Adolph Hitler's grip on Europe tightens against Allied forces. Naval Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu (Firth), Intelligence Officer Charles Cholmondeley (Macfadyen) and Lieutenant Commander Ian Fleming (Flynn) have a plan to break that grip.

Dubbed 'Operation Mincemeat', the trio hatch a covert mission to deceive German forces into preparing for an Allied invasion of Greece, when their true target with be Sicily. With false papers, military information planted on a body washed up in Spain, their plan sounds simple.

Montagu and Cholmondeley will need to convince Admiral John Godfrey (Isaacs) that the plan is fool-proof, but also deal with a complicated development of feelings for widowed secretary Jean Leslie (Macdonald). With so much resting on the mission, it's one that can't afford to fail...

A small operation taking place in April 1943 is one that has been often overlooked in the timeline of World War II. Not that is detracts from it's importance, but more often than not the action packed D-Day landings, behind enemy lines infiltrations and daring rescue operations are perfect for big screen action adventures. Yet there are many stories through the war that were just as crucial as such landings, infiltrations and rescues often never told beside memoirs and books. It's a story that has threads of farce within; creating a fictional soldier around a dead body, building up a fictional life and fictional documents going back and forth to get everything right in time to please the Admiral. Yet, this balances gentle humour and serious drama when you remember it's fact, with a smattering of artistic licence fiction thrown in.

The cast is top-notch for a British war-time thriller. From Colin Firth's war-weary Montagu, to Matthew Macfadyen's stiff-upper lipped Cholmondeley and Penelope Wilton's sweet secretary Hester Leggett, it's a who's who of solid talent. They manage to convey a mix of generations and ideals set in their second world war, knowing what sacrifices need to be made and how much depends on the choices they make. It's also great to see Kelly Macdonald as tough widow Jean who carries the flag for women who can take care of themselves, but still prove that the company of a good woman is longed for by men who think they have it all.

Support comes from fellow thespians Jason Isaacs, Simon Russell Beale and Mark Gatiss who could play these military types in their sleep, but still give us nothing but convincing performances that embody everything we want from British wartime soldiers and spies.

When a cast as veteran as this lead a story that could be a little underwhelming in the wrong hands, you're in good company and hang on every world and decision made that could spell success or failure.

Keep an eye out for Johnny Flynn's Ian Fleming - the very man who would pen the adventures of James Bond years later - helping shed a little light on the man we mostly know as a beloved author. Here we see Fleming instrumental in the military planning and success of such a small but crucial operation, and it's hard for Bond fans not to pick up on hearing how Fleming calls all superiors 'M', for Mother, behind their backs, and is smitten by the MI5 Q-Branch, including a wrist watch with a secret buzzsaw. "My God Fleming, what are you writing?" booms Firth as they eagerly await news on the operation. "Spy stories," hums Flynn through a curtain of smoke from his cigarette. You can almost see the foundations for his 007 escapism forming behind those cool, steely eyes.

Operation Mincemeat also makes the final film for the late Paul Ritter.

Set firms in the war-rooms and offices of British intelligence, this is no Dunkirk in terms of action. The colours are naval blues, browns and creams on uniforms and offices. Harsh light illuminates backrooms or dark London streets, and there is enough focus on authentic costumes, typewriters and jazz to remind us of the era we are in. There is very little action on offer, bar some naval operations and trench fighting helping bookend the film and adding weight to what decisions are made away from the front line. There's nothing wrong with exploring the war away from the battleground of Europe. There is just as much power to the decisions and military operations people had to conjure up to not just protect British shores, but reduce loss of life and make headway into Nazi occupied Europe. Bullets and bombs fight one side of the war, but deception and tough decisions fight the other.

The inclusion of a love-triangle story feels more fiction that fact, added for reasons to push characters to confrontation and add a little humane drama to these tough-talking military types. It never gets in the way of the main story, however, and is harmless enough.

Veteran director John Madden takes his time to unfurl both the point and plan of Mincemeat itself, balancing the pace without things every getting boring or stilted. You can feel the urgency and pressure of what these men and women face at all times, both in their military careers but also their personal ones.

Operation Mincemeat can sit comfortable alongside other British war-time films such as The Imitation Game and Darkest Hour that help tell overlooked heroism and stories, but with a gentle undercurrent of British drama fronted by award winning cast and crew members.

A well cast and engrossing British wartime drama that does as expected for the genre, but shedding new light on an overlooked operation that allowed the Allies to help turn the tide in World War II.

'Operation Mincemeat' is a co-production between FilmNation Entertainment, Cross City Films, See-Saw Films, Cohen Media Group and Archery Films

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