Operation Mincemeat Is Stranger-Than-Fiction

Colin Firth as Ewen Montagu and Matthew Macfadyen as Charles Cholmondeley in Operation Mincemeat. Photo credit: Giles Keyte. Courtesy of See-Saw Films and Netflix.

Operation Mincemeat has the pedigree to draw viewer interest in this stranger-than-fiction true story of World War II events in 1943.

I should warn you first and foremost that if subtitles are not your thing, this film will not be for you. While much of it is in English, there are a number of scenes that have subtitles on screen.

The gist of the film is that the Allies are trying to put a stop to Hitler’s occupation of Europe. In planning an assault on Sicily, they run into the challenge of protecting their invasion forces from a massacre. Enter a pair of intelligence officers, Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) and Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen), leading the top secret Twenty Committee of Naval Intelligence in a London basement. Call it inspired, improbably, or whatever you wish. Their plan revolves around the unlikeliest secret agent of all: a dead man. Oh yeah, they’re both in a love triangle with Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald).

While schools teach the basic gist of World War II, there are so many stories that are never taught in history books.  This is one of them. It’s the most illogical of any operation especially since it puts so many lives at stake. But when it came to defeating Hitler, just about every potential idea needed to be on the table. When I think of the turning point in the war, D-Day is a date that comes to mind. However, this operation is one that precedes D-Day. What Operation Mincemeat does is find a way to convince the Germans that they were landing elsewhere–in this instance, Greece instead of Sicily.

The British plot required a dead person’s body floating in Spain. They would be a “special courier” whose plane crashed. Even though people were dying all the time in the war, you had to find the right body in order to get the plot to work. In this case, Glyndwr Michael poses as Captain William Martin. One wrong move and it would go kaput. Everything counted on Nazi spies retrieving the body, finding the false information, and reporting it up the ladder. If that didn’t work, everyone would be speaking German and I would probably not even be alive right now. It certainly helps that Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn) was someone who read Basil Thomson’s work. Fleming, having read the novel, gives the idea to Admiral John Godfrey (Jason Isaacs). Godfrey was naval intelligence chief and the inspiration for M in Fleming’s James Bond novels.

Operation Mincemeat
Johnny Flynn as Ian Fleming in Operation Mincemeat. Photo credit: Giles Keyte. Courtesy of See-Saw Films and Netflix.

We often hear of Ian Fleming’s work before writing the James Bond novels. This is the first time I can personally recall seeing Fleming portrayed in a film about his work during the war. If not for Fleming working as an assistant to Godfrey, who knows how things would have turned out. He was the author of the Trout Memo that served as the basis for Operation Mincemeat.

When it comes to the film’s design work, John-Paul Kelly goes above and beyond. The production designer recreates a post-Blitz London and much of the film takes place at the Gargoyle Club. This is an era where everyone living in London is used to both the war and the blackouts. Everything about the overall design work–production and costume–aims for authenticity at its finest.

The film historian in me loves that Confessions of a Nazi Spy gets a mention. This Warner Bros classic happens to be the feature presentation at the cinema. You can read more about the issues surrounding the film’s production and release in the Thomas Doherty book, Hollywood and Hitler: 1933-1939.

Personally, I found the film to be slowly-paced. However, this is what I get for doing a recent binge of Star Trek: Picard and the MCU. I mean, it certainly makes sense when we’re talking about a film that plays more to the drama side of things than to the action side. It’s a very unusual war film. There are not the type of thrills that have you sitting on the edge of your seat. At least, this is how it plays for much of the two-hour-plus run time.

While the operation behind Operation Mincemeat may have been stranger than fiction, there’s no shortage of drama at play in this film celebrating the figures hiding in the shadows. It’s a different kind of war film for those of us who are accustomed to watching the war play out on the ground, the sea, and in the air. Until drawing towards a close, the large majority of this film is set in the war room if you will.

DIRECTOR: John Madden
SCREENWRITER: Michelle Ashford
CAST: Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton, Johnny Flynn, and Jason Isaacs

Netflix released Operation Mincemeat in theaters on May 6 and will start streaming the film on May 11, 2022. Grade: 3.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.