In the latter years of World War II, the Allies are readying themselves for a push back into Europe through Sicily. The only problem with this plan is that Nazi intelligence knows this and any assault will be a slaughter. Subsequently, an outrageous plan is concocted: to float a dead body into neutral Spanish territory, carrying falsified papers indicating the invasion will actually take place in Greece, in the hopes these documents will fall into Nazi hands and escalate up the chain of command. To say the undertaking is risky is putting it lightly but making it work is exactly what Commander Ewen Montagu [Firth] and Squadron Leader Charles Cholmondely [Macfadyen] have to do.
When it comes to British period productions, there’s a dangerous pitfall in dismissing the levels of magnificent production design, rich cinematography and pleasing accompanying score. All too often we take these elements for granted and forget that these departments are made up of incredibly hard-working talents who bring these pieces to life. Ultimately it’s a compliment because the bar is set so high but it’s worth noting that Operation Mincemeat is a lavishly created world, populated with a host of British dramatic all-stars. And unfortunately that may be the last positive note I make.
Pacing-wise, the entire endeavour is slow and laboured, causing the film to run aground a fair few times; not to mention the various plot threads that seem to fizzle out entirely. The problem is, there’s little sense of urgency or timing. Granted we’re offered a handful of dates on title cards and reminded that the prime conditions to act have a deadline.. but the knocking-at-the-door sense of peril and threat, presented by the war marching through Europe, doesn’t feel as pressing because the lives of the upper command/class feel so distant from the life on the battlefield.
I do acknowledge that the film attempts to offset this during the opening monologue, which tries to point out that the war on the ground and the war in the shadows are different. But the war feels a million miles away and while London may be hit by blackouts and rations, clubs are open and the drinks are flowing. This isn’t helped when the story accidentally slips into a weird romance that deviates into a love triangle which, again, detracts from the impact of the war.
For context: part of the subterfuge involves creating an entire life and backstory for the very real body posing as the fictional officer. Every article of clothing and random items he is carrying must be considered. One such item is a photograph from his lover, which is donated by an employee at the admiralty, Jean Leslie [Macdonald], in exchange for working on the project. Cholmondely had admired Leslie from afar but was often awkwardly rebuffed. However, working in such close and intimate proximity with the team, leads to Leslie and Montagu growing attached. Now, I’m not saying you can’t cover this aspect of the real events – some of the best war stories ever told have had entanglements of love at their centre – but the execution feels somewhat trite and superfluous considering the weight of the assignment and, more aptly, the stakes should they fail.
What really struck me though, is that the tone was off. World War II was some eighty years ago and seemingly every event has been canonised through film in one way or another. Rather than giving us a simplistic, blow-by-blow account of the mission, it would have been more interesting and engaging to shift the perspective or enhance the gall by leaning into this being a tale of the absurd. As it currently stands, the moral of the story feels like a jingoistic bit of cunning from old Blighty, rather than the reality that an incredibly desperate plot, cooked up by a bunch of toffs, got extraordinarily lucky and saved tens of thousands of lives. It should be a farce that got-by by the skin of its teeth, rather than a heroic noble tale of ingenuity. That way, every twist and turn – even the romantic complications – would add to the audience’s disbelief and draw them in deeper.
That being said, Operation Mincemeat is thoroughly inoffensive fare that calmly goes through the motions and as such, it will please a very specific demographic before falling out of memory.
15 April 2022
The Scene To Look Out For:
One of the individuals involved in the scheme (albeit adjacently) is author Ian Fleming, played by Johnny Flynn. Subsequently, we get a few nods for James Bond fans, like the origin of the name “M,” references to the real Q branch and various gadgets, such as a watch that doubles as a buzzsaw, which Fleming finds particularly amusing. But these scenes are actually few and far between and if anything they’re a distraction; like the story wanted to focus more on this but couldn’t. Something that is overtly apparent seeing as every Fleming scene was cut into the trailer.
Operation Mincemeat serves as Paul Ritter’s final performance, playing coroner Bentley Purchase. An altogether understated role that’s been given the due time and consideration to bring something of note to an otherwise forgettable part.
“The corkscrew thinking when dealing with spies sometimes contains one too many turns.”
In A Few Words:
“Considering the real events, Operation Mincemeat makes for a disappointingly insipid trudge”
Total Score: 2/5