Operation Mincemeat REVIEW – Mission Accomplished (Just About)

Firth and Macfayden deliver spirited and charismatic performances.

Operation Mincemeat
Operation Mincemeat

Has any event in history been explored on the big screen more frequently than the Second World War? From A Bridge Too Far in 1977 to Dunkirk in 2017, many of Hollywood’s finest filmmakers have interrogated this period in bloody, comprehensive detail. It is a pleasant surprise, then, to see a movie in Operation Mincemeat that finds a fresh story to tell within this saturated sphere of cinema – following two intelligence officers’ high-risk, borderline ridiculous plan to use a dead body and fake documents to force the Nazis to change their defensive strategy, leaving southern Europe open for an Allied attack.

These officers are played by Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen, two mainstays in British cinema who bring an effortless charisma to their roles – both using their extensive charm and personality to keep the audience entertained from start to finish.

Firth’s Ewen Montagu is something of a live wire whose mind is almost always elsewhere; his constantly conflicting loyalties – between his wife and potential love interest Jean (Kelly Macdonald), between the security of his nation and his devotion to Ivor (Mark Gatiss), his Communist-sympathising brother – providing a consistent source of distraction and torment.

On the flip side, Macfayden’s Charles Cholmondeley is completely by-the-books, following every rule to the letter and snooping on his new companion like a hawk, leading to an interesting dynamic of distrust and suspicion between the pair, with hostility levels growing minute-by-minute as tensions threaten to boil over.

Despite these natural performances, though, director John Madden does spend far too long focusing on the human side of the narrative, rather than the mind-blowing absurdity of this unbelievable real life story. The subplot between Montagu and Jean, in particular, feels painfully generic and undeserved, and every time the camera cuts back to their forced romance, you are left itching to return to the captivating central storyline.

Had Madden dedicated more of the film’s needlessly lengthy two hour runtime to crafting a nail-biting military thriller, rather than a tired and familiar romantic drama, this would have been a significantly more successful, streamlined outing. When the director does commit to fulfilling what was promised in the film’s promotional material – a tense, restless and unpredictable affair – it is thoroughly entertaining and deeply immersive. Stuffing the audience in tight, busy rooms full of activity and anxiety, Madden manages to hammer home the pressure and severity of this situation, and the unpredictability of a story has the power to keep you on the edge of your seat.

This immersion is only enhanced by some impressive production and costume design, with each set, prop and outfit feeling authentic and genuine. So often these sorts of movies can feel almost cartoonish with their exaggerated aesthetics, but every visual aspect of this film feels meticulously crafted and properly researched, emphasising the fact that this seemingly implausible plot was in fact a reality.

Unfortunately, though, too little screen time is dedicated to fleshing out this original story. Instead, the bizarre decision to concentrate on a dynamic that feels all too tired, all too familiar, undermines the uniqueness and freshness of the incredible true tale it is trying to tell. There is still plenty to enjoy and appreciate, but Operation Mincemeat ultimately misses the opportunity to become a real stand-out in a significantly saturated area of cinema.

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Operation Mincemeat
At times fascinating, at times frustrating, this just about does justice to its incredible true story.