An excellent, fact-based World War II thriller called Operation Mincemeat is now streaming on Netflix. Starring Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, Jason Isaacs, Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton, Ruby Bentall, Mark Gattiss and Johnny Flynn, the fast-moving, 2-hour drama follows the “war of shadows” fought by British intelligence officers leading to the successful Allied attack on the Nazis in 1943 Sicily.
The story focuses on how members of England’s counter-espionage deception division concocted an audacious scheme to plant supposedly classified documents on the corpse of a vagrant they purport to be a British major so that the Nazis will think the Allies are planning to invade Greece instead of Sicily and retaliate accordingly.
Leading the operation are low-key agents Ewen Montagu (Firth) and Charles Cholmondeley (Macfadyen,) who both fall in love with charming widow Jean Leslie (Macdonald,) a secretary who helps them immeasurably in developing the backstory for the fictitious Major William Martin. Isaacs plays Admiral John Godfrey, the supervisor who doesn’t think the high-stakes subterfuge will work and Simon Russell Beale plays Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who believes the plan stands a chance.
Also adding color and dimension to the piece are Flynn’s naval intelligence officer Ian Fleming, who is using his spy job as a springboard for his future career as a novelist; Gattis’ Ivor Motagu, Ewen’s shifty, possibly traitorous brother; and Wilton’s Hester Leggett, a loyal secretary whose top priority is looking after Ewen after his wife leaves him and takes their children to the United States for safety.
This extraordinary true story about a low-tech mission that ultimately saved tens of thousands of lives is tense and surprisingly funny. The line, “The fate of the free world is dependent on a corpse in a donkey cart,” sums up the film perfectly. Taking place largely in offices, boardrooms and private homes, instead of on the battlefield, it has only enough violence and gore to remind us how dangerous the world was at this time and what the characters are risking. Top-notch performances by British artists, many of whom have previously worked together, make Operation Mincemeata must-see, even for viewers who don’t think they have time for yet another war picture.
Director John Madden and Firth collaborated on Shakespeare in Love, Firth and Macdonald co-starred in Nanny McPhee, Macdonald and Isaacs appeared in the Harry Potterfilm franchise and Madden directed Wilton in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Icing the cake is how Firth and Macfadyen both played Mr. Darcy in screen incarnations of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice and are now romantic rivals for Macdonald’s attention.
Grade — A
Here’s the trailer of the film.