'Operation Mincemeat' review: Wartime drama is stranger than fiction
Courtesy of Netflix
A World War II drama/thriller that doesn’t feature a silver of action on the battlefield, “Operation Mincemeat” dramatizes the incredibly bizarre true story about how British intelligence manufactured an outlandish, so-silly-it-has-to-work plan to fool the Nazi’s. It involved a decaying corpse, which the government dressed up and gave an expansive backstory, naming him “Capt William Martin,” who would be dropped into enemy occupied territory with fake marching orders about a non-existent invasion, tricking Hitler and his allies into preparing for an invasion of Greece and Sardinia instead of the actual target: Sicily. The rest is history.
Directed by John Madden with a script by Michelle Ashford, “Operation Mincemeat” bolsters a respectable ensemble including Colin Firth and “Succession” breakout Matthew Macfayden as the two government agents in charge of the entire operation Ewan Montague and Charles Cholmondely. Both are delectable and engaging in their usual stern demeanor with comedic bits thrown in for good measure. After all, the mission is kind of hokey when it gets down to brass tax. Rounding out the cast is Johnny Flynn’s Lt Ian Fleming, yes that Ian Fleming, and Kelly Macdonald’s MI5 clerk Jean Leslie who was probably the most detrimental asset in the mission, providing a tucked away photograph inside William Martin’s breast pocket to help make the corpse seem more, uh, legit.
“Operation Mincemeat” isn’t short on tension or emotional drama and occasionally that can cause friction. A love triangle between Leslie, Montague and Cholmondely never goes at the speed of the rest of the movie, likewise for Ian Fleming’s narration and typewriter clacking where the author is writing a “spy novel” that would, I presume, eventually become James Bond. And there’s even mumblings about Jason Isaac’s Admiral John Godfrey investigating Montague’s brother and his shady communist ties. It fizzles almost as quickly as it’s introduced. What does work is the banter and conversations surrounding Cap William Martin’s history and how each character had a hand in making up this personification they all dreamed about. A scene where the main crew ponder inside a crowded bar about whether or not Martin would be among them is a bittersweet reminder of the casualty of war.
To his credit, and despite the questionable detours, Madden never loses sight of the mission or the story he’s telling, honoring legacies whilst reminding audiences old and new alike how improbable this operation was from the start. Joining a laundry list of titles about behind-the-scenes ingenuity that helped win WWII, think “The Imitation Game” or “The Darkest Hour,” “Operation Mincemeat” manages to hold down the fort even when its own clunky storytelling (and lengthy runtime) can sometimes stand in the way.
OPERATION MINCEMEAT is now streaming on Netflix.