Thanks to a tip from my sister-in-law Abby, I watched “Operation Mincemeat” on Netflix this week. It’s the story of a giant deception dreamed up in 1943 by British spies to fool Hitler into believing the Allies would mount an assault on the shores of Greece, although the actual plan was to land on the beaches of Sicily.
To fool the Nazis, English intelligence officers — including Ian Fleming, who later wrote the James Bond novels — devised a scheme using a briefcase full of phony official documents attached to a soldier’s corpse that the Royal Navy dropped in the water off Spain. Every choice along the way was scrutinized to the smallest details, including a photo of the dead man’s girlfriend and a love letter she had written him. The hope was that the body would drift ashore, be found by local fishermen, and be turned over to Spanish authorities who would share the information with German intelligence officers.
Director John Madden (“Shakespeare In Love,” “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “Proof”) brings the audience in on the plot so that we feel the tension and anxiety of everyone involved. As the men charged with running the ruse, Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen keep the stereotypical English stiff upper lip, but aren’t completely unemotional. Kelly Macdonald is also quite good as a key member of the team drawn to Firth’s character, and their platonic byplay is fascinating to watch.
Screenwriter Michelle Ashford — who created the terrific Showtime series “Masters Of Sex” — includes subplots involving the possible communist ties of Firth’s character’s brother, higher-ups concerned with who to blame when the plan goes awry, and the scientists of Q Branch, who we’re familiar with from every Bond film.
Though the tale of this historic deception has been told before in books, documentaries, and podcasts, I had never heard it until watching “Operation Mincemeat.” Behind-the-scenes war stories can seem bland compared to the action-filled adventures that have filled our screens for so long. But like “The Imitation Game,” the intrigue and trickery of this movie kept me on the edge of my seat — even though I was pretty sure I knew how it would end.
One last point. I’m glad this entire story was covered in a movie that runs just over two hours, rather than being stretched out into a “limited series” of six, eight, or ten episodes. Too often, projects get overblown and padded unnecessarily. Fortunately, “Operation Mincemeat” is not among them, and does not end with a cliffhanger designed to make us wait for its next season.
I’m giving it an 8 out of 10. Now streaming on Netflix.