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Operation Mincemeat movie review: Colin Firth leads the cream of British acting in old-fashioned spy drama

Operation Mincemeat movie review: Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen star in director John Madden's handsome drama about one of the most unbelievable espionage operations in history.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Written by Rohan Naahar | New Delhi |
May 14, 2022 7:59:33 am
Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen in a still from Operation Mincemeat.

An exceptionally packed year for dad movies continues with Operation Mincemeat, the new World War II thriller that should make for an excellent companion piece to Munich – The Edge of War and The Outfit. Each of these three movies spin old-fashioned yarns filled with decadence and deceit. Such is the vibe overlap that all three films also share several of the same actors, in addition to their visible affection for classic wartime tales.

Operation Mincemeat could very easily function as a sort of sequel to Munich – The Edge of War—an almost unbearably suspenseful drama about efforts to stop Adolf Hitler from coming into power—much like how The Post is essentially a prequel to All the President’s Men. In fact, add Valkyrie to the mix and you’d get yourself a nice little trilogy.

Unfolding essentially as the WW 2 version of Argo, the film tracks a bunch of middle-aged white bureaucrats as they hatch an ambitious plan to divert Nazi Germany’s attention from the beaches of Sicily—a location of strategic importance to the Allied forces—and lead them to believe that they should, instead, be focusing on Greece. Taking over Sicily, which was being defended dearly by the Nazis, would give the Allies a better chance at moving inland.

But first, they’d have to throw the Germans off the scent. And with Prime Minister Winston Churchill under pressure to deliver on a promise that he made to President Franklin D Roosevelt, a crack team led by Colin Firth’s Ewen Montagu puts into motion Operation Mincemeat, almost as a last resort.

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The operation was named after the central conceit: Dressing a random man’s dead body to look like a drowned British soldier, who just happened to have on his person important documents that would, eventually, need to be discovered by Nazi higher-ups. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to have a character succinctly summarise the plot for the audience’s convenience. Matthew Macfadyen’s Charles Cholmondeley does the honours here, when he scoffs, “The fate of the free world dependent on a corpse in a donkey cart?”

Ewen and Charles were joined in their mission by the feisty Jean Leslie, played by Kelly Macdonald, who is sadly saddled with a pointless romantic subplot that the movie could have done away with. Although then, the characters would have been even thinner than they are now. Penelope Wilton, Jason Isaacs, Mark Gatiss and Simon Russell Beale show up in supporting roles. The narration, meanwhile, is provided by none other than Ian Fleming, who, of course, served as an intelligence officer before creating perhaps the most famous fictional secret agent in history. He’s played by the dashing Johnny Flynn, and the sole reason for his inclusion in the movie is to give director John Madden an excuse to include cute James Bond references. Like how Fleming addresses one of his superiors as M, much to the amusement of his chums.

Operation Mincemeat isn’t at all like the Bond movies, though. It’s significantly more old-fashioned in its approach to spy craft, which is always a welcome change from the more action-packed espionage films that we tend to watch. Madden already had one of these under his belt—The Debt, an underseen 2010 film about a Mossad agent played by both Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain.

He’s one of those journeyman directors who can always be counted on to make (mostly) solid films, regardless of the genre. Consider some of his past work: the Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its equally warm sequel, and Nicolas Cage’s handsome dud Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. You couldn’t find connective tissue between them even if you tried, aside from the fact that all of his movies are geared at an older audience. The kids can have their 007s and their Ethan Hunts; but for others, the sight of Colin Firth waiting intently for a telegram could be just as satisfying as a death-defying stunt.

Operation Mincemeat
Director – John Madden
Cast – Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Jason Isaacs, Johnny Flynn
Rating – 3.5/5

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