Directed by: John Madden
Distributed by: Netflix
Written by Patrick Hao
“Operation Mincemeat” is a handsome, respectable, slightly boring, light British drama – the type of movie that is designed to win awards at the AARP Movies for Grown-ups awards. Directed by John Madden, the veteran British director who has made a career in making these disposable dramas, “Operation Mincemeat” is a retelling of the real-life operation of the same name. For many, this operation is most familiar from the book and film, “The Man Who Was Never There,” when the British army decided to pull off the strangest of heists during World War II.
The British in 1943, desperate to penetrate Sicily as they push upwards into Europe, decide to take advantage of the known Nazi moles and spies throughout Europe. The plan: procure a dead body. Dress up the dead body as someone in the British high command. Implant fake British intelligence documents indicating that the British will invade Greece so that the Axis Powers would divert troops from Sicily to Greece. Drop the body in the ocean so that it can be found and the fake British intelligence will fall into the right hands.
This hair-brained scheme derives from Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) and MI5 agent Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfayden). The movie plays out as a classic heist film. Montagu and Cholmondeley butt heads as they both have big stakes in this operation succeeding: Montagu has a brother who is a communist and Cholmondeley is living in the shadows of his war-hero brother. Their uneasy alliance is further strained by a misbegotten love triangle with secretary Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald).
The scenes involving the planning and trial and error of the operation offer lots of fun. This is the type of men in suits, speaking with firm conviction while typewriters clack away cinema that is like catnip for me. However, any moments devoted to this “romance” between the three leads bring the film to a halt, and unfortunately, a lot of the film is devoted to this romance. This insertion of romance, whose only purpose seems to be to make this a “four-quadrant picture,” pads the over two-hour run time for what should be a lean spy thriller.
Another baffling decision was the use of Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn) as the narrator – yes that Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond series. While he was involved in the real-life operation, his insertion seems to be utilized more as a fun fact than as something pertinent to the narrative. It does not help that the narration also serves as a device to over-explain in case the audience’s attention was diverted – which to be fair, as a Netflix original, my phone checking urge was itching.
“Operation Mincemeat” is a functional but mostly dull exercise. There are appearances from British acting stalwarts like Penelope Wilton, Jason Isaacs, the late Paul Ritter, and Simon Russell Beale chewing the most scenery as Winston Churchill. Netflix is probably the best location for this movie to end up – the type of movie that your grandfather falls asleep too, but every time you try to change it, he wakes up to say that he is watching that. And for that, I am happy that this type of movie is still being made.
“Operation Mincemeat” Trailer