Based on a British Second World War deception operation to camouflage the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily, “Operation Mincemeat,” now playing in theatres, moving to Netflix on May 11, is an entertaining retelling of a little-known plan to break Hitler’s grasp on Europe.
Based on historical records, the movie details a plan so outlandish it sounds as though it sprung from the fanciful mind of a screenwriter. That the plan was, in part, hatched by a young Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn), who would later go on to create the outlandish 007 spy stories, would seem to be another flight of the imagination, but even that flourish is based on fact.
The plan, nicknamed Operation Mincemeat, involved tricking Hitler into believing the Allies planned to invade Greece, not Sicily. But how to pull it off? QC-turned-Lieutenant-Commander Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) and MI5 agent Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen) marshal an audacious disinformation plan to drop a dead man off the coast of Spain, where the Nazi spy chain begins. In the pockets of the corpse’s uniform are “wallet litter,” faked love letters, military ID etc. In his case are “classified” military correspondence indicating the Allies were about to invade Greece. If that information falls into German hands and distracts them, it will allow a full-scale Allied invasion of Sicily.
“Operation Mincemeat” is a spirited recreation of the meticulous planning that went into the scheme to fool the Fuhrer. Director John Madden finds the suspense, the espionage and even the romance in the situation. The first two elements work well, creating a forward momentum that builds excitement as the running time ticks by. The romance between Montagu and Jean Leslie, played by Kelly Macdonald, is less convincing and feels wedged in.
Better are the comedic aspects. While some of the dealings with the dead man evoke memories of “Weekend at Bernie’s,” most of the laughs come from the absurdity of the situation, and feel organic to the story.
A welcome addition to the stranger-than-fiction genre, “Operation Mincemeat” is a well-appointed, well-crafted period piece that avoids the stoicism of other war time espionage thrillers.