The Movie Guru: “Operation Mincemeat”a very British historical drama
The Movie Guru
Grade: Two and a half stars
“Operation Mincemeat” isn’t a spy movie. It’s a British drama.
Yes, the plot of the new Netflix movie does focus on one of the more unusual clandestine missions of World War II. Yes, there are spies in the movie. Both of these facts pale in comparison to the sheer British drama-ness of the movie, where the closest thing you get to action are tense meetings in offices and highly skilled actors staring broodingly into the distance. Occasionally, you might even get people waiting stone-faced for a highly important telegram.
If you like British dramas, this is in no way a bad thing. “Operation Mincemeat” is a well-acted example of the genre, with a cast list boasting no less than Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen and Kelly Macdonald. There’s plenty of restrained but somehow swelling emotion, a relatively faithful adherence to history not often found in American movies, and plenty of complications. If you like “Downton Abbey” but would like to try something a little more serious, this might be just the thing.
The movie follows the behind-the-scenes stories of a real WWII operation, where a dead body was dressed up to look like a drowned British officer with information saying that Allied forces were planning to re-take Greece. It was released in just the right place to wash up in Spain, where Nazi spies would helpfully intercept the information. This was meant to convince Hitler to divert a big chunk of his troops to protect the country, leaving the Allies to enact their real plan of re-taking Sicily.
Though viewers familiar with WWII history know whether or not the plan works out, the movie leaves that answer to the very last moment. Some of the earlier hurdles include superior officers who were against the plan, technical details of finding the right body, and making sure that the neutral Spanish government let the information slip. The movie also adds plenty of emotional issues, including a sort-of romance with a married man and tense feelings between the two men in charge of the mission.
Though the real story was wilder than the movie can manage to contain, it does give an interesting sense of all the little complications that got in the way. The body was going to be seen by a Spanish coroner, which meant the cause of death had to be accurate. Unfortunately, finding a dead body that’s fresh enough, died the right way, and looked like he could have been freshly in Her Majesty’s Service is hardly the simplest task. Even something as simple as a picture is the source of a fair amount of drama.
The cast are all masters of British drama, with Firth and Macfadyen both extra good at portraying deep emotions roiling just beneath the surface. Macfayden is possibly just a little better, managing anger, grief and heartbreak just beneath a wall of British propriety. Firth and Macdonald have some tender moments, though whether it qualifies as a romance is up to you.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.