Let’s talk about Operation Mincemeat.
There are so many World War 2 films. Like seriously, I have to imagine that at this point every bit of the war has now been covered in some way by movies. Surely the only thing left that hasn’t made it to the big screen is some very small battle that happened in a theatre only about five historians care about? But this makes it an extra challenge for those who wish to make films about WW2. Because there have been so many, you have to either find something very interesting to cover or you have to find a new way of showing it. Christopher Nolan did the latter. Dunkirk has been shown many times but his movie was a completely different way of experiencing it. So which way do we think that Operation Mincemeat is going to do it?
The British are planning to invade Sicily but the Germans know about it and so have reinforced the island. Therefore, British spies plan to leak secret (and completely fake) orders that they will instead invade Greece in order to trick the Germans into moving their troops away from the Italian island.
In answer to the question I posed at the end of an earlier paragraph, it’s the former. Operation Mincemeat is one of the lesser known parts of World War 2, which is probably how the spies who came up with it liked it. The idea is that in order to get some fake plans to Adolf Hitler, they will drop a dead body with said plans into the ocean and that will then float to land for the Germans to pick up. This may sound simple, but in fact it isn’t. The Germans of course know that the British are trying subterfuge so they have to get all of the details right, including creating fake personas for the dead body and things like that. But the Germans also know they are trying to do that so you can’t be too perfect with the ruse. It is a lot like a game of poker, except if your bluff is called Hitler takes over Europe.
Where this all happens though is in rooms. Rooms where there is a lot of talking. It does all feel a bit old-fashioned. Colin Firth leads the cast here and even though he puts in a fine performance, it does feel a bit obvious. I don’t know how many World War 2 films he has been in but it feels like he has been in every single one. And this all contributes to a feeling of this film has happened before. There has been an Operation Mincemeat film before, all the way back in 1970, and it wouldn’t shock me if this was just a straight remake. There is no use of modern film making or storytelling techniques to try and bring it all to life. It’s just a lot of talking in rooms as the story slowly progresses. They want to tell the story they are telling and not do much beyond that.
This is not necessarily a bad thing though. Being able to tell a story without the bells and whistles is a lost art and if it can be done well, it can be engaging in its own right. And the actors definitely do their part. As I said before, Firth is really good. He can play the British government figure type in his sleep at this point. And he is joined by a very capable cast. Matthew Macfayden plays across from Firth as Cholmondeley, the other man behind Operation Mincemeat. I like how he subtly feeds his jealousy of Firth into his performance. Then you have the additions of Kelly Macdonald who is probably the most likable person in the film plus Penelope Wilton who is as wonderful as you’d expect. No one puts in the performance that’d bring it all to life, but they are all very good.
And in the end, this does tell us about an intriguing part of the war. Admittedly, it does inform us that spycraft is indeed duller than you’d probably expect. It’s not all James Bond, martinis and cat cuddling villains. A lot of it is worrying about whether the fake paperwork you created gets into the hands of the right corrupt official in Spain. But as a way to teach you some history, and I am presuming that how the operation goes is true to history, this is a good way to go. The film goes to extreme lengths to tell you how important this ‘other war’ was to make sure that the soldiers who get most of the attention in WW2 films were able to fight and limit losses. And this particular operation is fascinating in how it could have so easily gone wrong and become a disaster for the Allies. There’s even a few bones thrown to those of us who are fans of the most famous spy of them all. Ian Fleming stars as a character, yes he was a real life spy, and you can see the little bits that would make it into his Bond books. But on the actual important to war history part, I feel like this film will have a great home being played during history lessons for sure, though that might not be the best praise I’ve ever handed out.
The biggest weakness is the love triangle. This is the bit of the film I’m quite confident in thinking was probably not present in the real story. Firth and Macfayden’s characters both sort of like Kelly Macdonald, and Macdonald kind of likes them both back, but maybe Firth a bit more. And that sentence being the best description is why it falls completely flat. This film has a lot of the stiff British upper lip in it because it’s the 1940s and God damn it we won a war with that stiff upper lip. But while it’s good in a war, it doesn’t really help in a movie where you need some emotions to really get pushed to the limit under a love triangle. The feelings on all sides are weak and the chemistry is just not there. I’m not even convinced that any of these characters would swipe right for each other in Tinder, never mind wreck their personal relationships and this operation for an affair with each other.
Operation Mincemeat will find its audience. It’s an old fashioned World War 2 drama and I’m sure when it finds its way into the afternoon line-up of Channel 5 films, there will be plenty of people who enjoy this more sedate type of drama. Even for a movie audience, there’s plenty to like. All of the performances are very good, bar the romance subplot which even the actors don’t feel engaged with, and this is a good education on how spycraft was done during World War 2, with the scenes in Spain being particularly good at this. But it does feel quite stale at times with its presentation and it never really elevates itself above being pretty good. It’s a decent film for World War 2 enthusiasts, though it probably won’t engage those who don’t have an interest in the subject matter.