A team of English intelligence officers set out to create a plan of unique deception to trick the Germans of the upcoming expected Allied invasion of Sicily. They must trick the Germans into believing an invasion of Greece is the intended plan. If this ruse is successful, it could alter the course of WWII.
They plan on accomplishing this by using a corpse designed to look like an English officer who is carrying false top secret documents that detail the invasion. The body will be dumped into the ocean, wash up on shore and be discovered. If it all goes according to plan, Germans will let their guard down in Sicily.
Operation Mincemeat is a fascinating, macabre story. It’s not a showy WWII tale. Most of the action and tension takes place in offices, at desks, in smokey meetings and brainstorm sessions rather than on the battlefield. Yet, this unique mission and the obstacles that must be overcome to make the ‘Trout Memo’ successful, is just as compelling as fighting enemy fire.
And the film captures a lot of it.
Colin Firth and Matthew Macfaden are in charge of the operation and have to do a lot of convincing of their superior this is an operation worth pursing. If it wasn’t for the desperation of Winston Churchill, the plan would be abandoned. Yet, because of the dire situation, he believes the plan is so outlandish that it could possibly work.
The ‘dead soldier’ carrying documents of misinformation has to be convincing in the most minute details. That’s where the best scenes come from. Watching the creation of this fictional English soldier who has a background, dreams, personal quirks, a girl waiting for him back home.
The best scenes are when the film focuses on this plan. Trying to obtain the perfect body to play their fictitious soldier is not an easy task. You can’t just ask for volunteers for this assignment. It’s an intriguing dilemma that has a bit of dark and humors aspects to it. Once getting the candidate he has to be convincing in the most minute details. Each member of the group provides their own added touches to who this man was to make him as real as possible.
It’s a well thought illusion. When the plan is put into play and the decoy body washes up on the Spanish shore the story doesn’t end, but tension mounts. If the Spanish don’t cooperate with the Nazis the information the corpse is carrying won’t get into their hands. Will the right people read and interpret what the Allies want them to? How will they be certain the Germans took the bait and read the sealed documents? And most importantly, will they believe what they read?
I was worried with the presence of Ian Fleming as a character in the story, there would be more attention placed on him and his eventual success with the creation of James Bond. When films do the constant foreshadowing and references to things that are not relevant to the story at hand, it can grow awfully old fast for me and just become annoying. The story is not about Fleming or what his future is, so there’s no need to tease us with it.
Fortunately, Fleming is kept relatively in the background and remains a supporting character. There are indications of him getting inspiration, beginning his work on his ‘spy character’ and some of the more showy MI6 early gadgets that will form his arsenal, but it’s kept much more low-key than I was concerned it would be.
While the group discusses the plan and trying to anticipate every tiny detail that might have the Germans question the plausibility of these documents falling into their hands, they must find solutions to them. These are the highlights of the film and it’s exactly what you’re hoping to see when you watch it. The weakest parts of Operation Mincemeat is when it veers away from this unusual operation and introduces a romantic subplot between Firth, MacDonald and Macfaden that badly intrudes on the story. It’s simply a formulaic and trite relationship that brews between the two and not very interesting at all. It’s a shame, the film decides to take a detour with the story.
There is also another added subplot of Firth’s brother being a suspected Russian spy and MacFadyen being asked to keep a close watch on him, which even more than the romantic diversion, adds nothing to the film. I’m not entirely sure if these subplots were true or not (those who read the book would know), but the way they’re handled in the film they become more of a distraction to the actual operation which is more than enough to hold your attention. I really became disappointed when these subplots interrupted the main story.
Perhaps, the filmmakers felt the planning and working on the operation needed assistance and wasn’t strong enough on its own. So, they added these subplots to add more personal pressure on the characters. It doesn’t work. They should have just trimmed the film down from its full two-hour runtime and stuck solely with the Operation. The other storylines just feel like padding.
I’ve read the 1956 film The Man Who Never Was, which also tells the story of the operation, is superior in its telling of this fascinating bit of history. Along with the book, which I’m sure goes into much greater detail than either film. I have yet to see The Man Who Never Was or read the book, so I don’t know the comparisons.
For now, despite the unnecessary romantic subplot that hinders the story, I did enjoy Operation Mincemeat. It did a fine telling of this WWII tale, but I had hoped it would be much better. Had it concentrated all its attention on the mission at hand and not drifted away from it at points, it would have been a much stronger film.