Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen War Drama – The Hollywood Reporter

While traditional American war films tend to lean heavily into bravery, sacrifice and energetic patriotism, the British equivalent more often prefers heart and faith, duty and rigid determination, especially in the country’s rich library of home front dramas. Audiences with a love for the latter will enjoy John Maddens Operation Minced meat, a gripping account of an extensive World War II espionage deception that helped reverse the development of Allied forces in Europe. A far more decorative affair than its macho-burger title suggests, this is a classic production with a first-class ensemble cast that splices the intrigue of the story with a gripping vein of melodrama.

Warner Bros. released the film in the UK on April 15, with Netflix to follow in the US and other territories on May 11. It is a polished example of gently encouraging entertainment for war history enthusiasts in line with Lone Scherfig’s Their finest from 2016.

Operation Minced meat

The bottom line

Exciting and satisfying wartime intrigue.

Release date: Wednesday 11 May
Cast: Colin Firth, Matthew MacFadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton, Johnny Flynn, Jason Isaacs, Mark Gatiss, Hattie Morahan, Paul Ritter, Alex Jennings, Simon Russell Beale
Manager: John Madden
Screenwriter: Michelle Ashford, based on the book by Ben Macintyre

Rated PG-13, 2 hours 7 minutes

The bonus here for fans of typical British espionage is the presence of an Ian Fleming from before 007 in his time as assistant to Admiral John Godfrey (steely Jason Isaacs), the head of British Naval Intelligence, who became a model for the fictional MI5- boss, “M,” in the James Bond novels. Played with martini-dry wit by a debonair Johnny Flynn, Fleming takes care of the narrative and is often seen tooting at a typewriter on what the viewer assumes will form the basis of his more famous career in the future. It is a low-key ongoing joke that every other person working in British espionage apparently strives to become busy as a spy writer.

The stranger-than-fiction case that gives the film the awkward title is a plan allegedly hatched by Fleming and developed in 1943 by Navy intelligence officers Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) and Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen).

It was urgent to get Britain to find a way into occupied Europe, and Churchill (a harsh Simon Russell Beale) had determined that Sicily was the ideal “soft underbelly” to stage the invasion. But given the ease with which the Germans could foresee this move, a strategic military deception was necessary. The operation aimed to plant documents outlining a falsely planned invasion of Greece on a corpse that would wash up on the Spanish coast, where the information would be intercepted by Nazi spies.

The episode was filmed by Ronald Neame in 1956 as The man who never waswhich was based on Montagu’s book of the same name and starring Cliffton Webb and Gloria Grahame.

This absorbingly detailed account was adapted from the book by historian Ben Macintyre (also the subject of a 2010 BBC documentary) by television author Michelle Ashford, whose credits include Masters of sex and Pacific Ocean. Her script balances a methodical retelling of the complex military deception with robust character portraits of the main characters involved, giving us a rooted interest, not only in the war maneuvers but also in the personal efforts of those working behind the scenes.

Montagu, who is a prominent lawyer at Old Bailey, is introduced at a dismal time during a formal dinner that guests assume should announce his retirement. In fact, it’s a farewell to his Jewish wife, Iris (Hattie Morahan), and their children, whom Ewen packs for America to secure against the potential German occupation of England. A strain in the marriage caused by Ewens’ remote location and his consuming devotion to his work casts doubt on their future reunion.

Rejecting questions from his curious brother Ivor (Mark Gatiss), Montagu digs into MI5’s Twenty Committee and finds a like-minded ally in Cholmondeley, a former RAF pilot whose big feet and bad eyes cause his self-ironic identification as “a flightless bird. . ” Admiral Godfrey is sniffing at the chances of their absurd scam proposals for success, but Churchill gives the green light for them to be installed in a basement office and put to work.

The drama’s most compelling episodes are those in which Ewen and Charles seek to make their plan foolproof by taking care of every minute of background details about the fictional naval courier, Major William Martin, whom the Nazis believe was shot down in the Mediterranean by strategic military. Information. It begins with finding a corpse that can pass like a drowned man, a brisk search, which Ashford injects with both humor and the solemn acknowledgment that they command a lost human life.

With the help of the faithful director of the Admiralty’s Secretariat, Hester Leggett (Penelope Wilton), they then work counterclockwise to organize the mission before the corpse decomposes, synchronizing their efforts with the movements of a submarine sailing from Scotland that would release the corpse. in Spanish coastal colors. It involves not only the preparation of military documents and identification papers, but also of personal belongings such as a photograph of the major’s fiancĂ©, a love letter, even the receipt for an engagement ring.

This is where the clever, resourceful MI5 assistant Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald) comes in. She insists on a seat at the table in return for her contribution and agrees to submit her photograph to serve as Major Martin’s girlfriend, whom they name Pam. Madden and Ashford deftly weave elements of a hijacker together with the dizzying pleasures of creating fiction, while the group fills in details of not one but two complete lives, William and Pam.

Where the film moves towards more prosaic territory is in the formation of a delicate romantic triangle as the widow Jean grows closer to Ewen during late nights in the office or in their regular Soho watering hole, The Gargoyle Club. Their flourishing relationship, while limited by British reservations and decency, arouses jealousy in Charles, making him receptive to Godfrey’s request to spy on Ewen, whose brother Ivor is a suspected communist sympathizer believed to share secrets with the Russians.

That subplot is almost one too many, but the film’s melancholic undercurrents and its sharp observation of the loneliness of all four principals make the more melodramatic threads both engaging and influential.

The luminous Macdonald is especially lovely as Jean warms himself to Ewen’s gentlemanly attention, while Firth conveys the rushing emotions during his rigid formality, and his uncharacteristic directness becomes quite moving when he arouses the courage to speak openly. This is well connected with the story’s distinction between truth and deception. The indispensable Wilton brings her usual wisdom and clipped authority to a character who is fully aware of the interpersonal emotions among her colleagues while keeping the larger lens firmly in focus.

But it is the Macfady who gives off the sarminess that has made him as loved as Tom Wambsgans on Succession, which provides the excellent performance. Behind his horn-rimmed glasses and starchy mustache, Charles is a dull yet annoying eccentric, perhaps even envious of his war hero brother, who died on foreign soil and whose return to a proper funeral becomes a lever tool that Godfrey uses. The “purity” of the love affair between the fictional William and Pam and its sad outcome touches them all, but the Macfady quietly crushes Charles’ unspoken longing.

Thomas Newman’s pleasantly understated score prefers soulfulness to suspense, but the script accelerates the suspense from the moment the “drowned” body is loaded onto a donkey cart in Huelva, and an overzealous local forensic scientist threatens to derail months of careful planning. The serious notion of sending 100,000 men into battle in Sicily in what could well be a trap maintains this tension for the duration. Ashford’s entertaining eye for character details is evident even late in the action, with the introduction of Captain David Ainsworth (Nicholas Rowe), a handsome British agent in Spain, willing to use his charm for the cause.

Beautifully shot by Sebastian Blenkov in dark, polished tones that suit both the era and the secrecy of the plot, this is a pleasant old-fashioned film exalted by sharp writing, impeccable performance and by a story that is so much the more incredible because it actually happened.

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