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Movie review / ‘Operation Mincemeat’

“Operation Mincemeat” (M) ****

MY memories of director Ronald Neame’s 1956 film “The Man Who Never Was” with Clifton Webb and Gloria Graham have rather faded. 

Drawing on the book by real life protagonist Ewen Montagu, Nigel Balchin, no slouch at film writing, did the screenplay.

Montagu died in 1985. I suspect that if he were still alive, he might have looked favourably on John Madden’s film made last year of the same historical events with a screenplay by Michelle Ashford drawing on a book by Ben Macintyre. 

Ashford and Macintyre may well have had access to documentation not available to Balchin. It would make for stimulating reading. 

Did the actual Operation Mincemeat do any good in 1943? Eminently watchable, Madden’s film “Operation Mincemeat” doesn’t find a fictional way into the stranger-than-fiction outrageousness of the scheme itself, like those “homefront wartime” British films emphasising morale, strategic ingenuity and political shenanigans, rather than battlefield action.

I’m glad I saw it. Wartime tensions bubble away under its cloak of secrecy. It’s well acted – Colin Firth as Montagu, Matthew Macfadyen as Flt-Lt Cholmondeley (pronounced “Chumley”), Jason Isaacs as Admiral Godfrey, Penelope Wilton as Hester Leggett, Kelly Macdonald as Jean Leslie. The action evolves mainly in a top secret office in the War Office, where a collection of agile minds ponders the best way of leading Hitler and his generals to expect the allies would invade through Greece, when the allies were actually planning to come through Sicily. 

One of the people involved in the deception went on to world fame – some might call it notoriety – after the tumult and the shooting died. His name was Ian Fleming, a lieutenant commander under Montagu (who held the same rank). Played by Johnny Flynn, he has a peripheral role in the film – some say the mincemeat idea was his in the first place, but who now could be certain ? 

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Dougal Macdonald

Dougal Macdonald

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One Response to Movie review / ‘Operation Mincemeat’

MI6 says: May 15, 2022 at 1:09 am

John Madden’s “remake” of Operation Mincemeat and Ben Macintyre’s novel make for great viewing and reading. The Madden film is based on Macintyre’s novel, and they are both a fake news aficionado’s paradise when it comes to trying to differentiate layer after layer of fact and fiction. Nevertheless, as with many war or espionage thrillers like the Ipcress File it’s a shame the film industry is producing yet more remakes. If success is to breed success the film industry must not polish old gems but mine for new ones. In these genres, examples of such new gems include Mick Herron’s Slow Horses from the Slough House stable and Beyond Enkription, the first fact based spy thriller in The Burlington Files series by Bill Fairclough. They are both great reads. The celluloid adaptation of Slow Horses looks destined to become an anti-Bond classic. As for The Burlington Files let’s hope the film industry hears of it. Not being a remake this enigmatic and elusive thriller may have eluded you.

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