This film, which is in the capable and experienced hands of director John Madden, is a crisp and straightforward telling with a good script and a first class cast of reliable British actors.
The time is 1943. The Allies need to find a way into Europe, currently in the hands of Hitler. The best entry point is Sicily but the German forces realise that and have the island heavily defended. Then the back room boys of the war in the British intelligence service come up with a daring plan. The idea is first mooted by junior office Fleming (Johnny Flynn), an enigmatic young man who spends his time when not actually involved in work tapping out his spy novel on his typewriter. The plan is to find a suitable corpse, dress him in military uniform, plant on him apparently top secret papers indicating that the Allied plan is to invade Greece and dump him near Spain, where hopefully the papers will be found and passed to the Nazis.
It is taken up by his superior officers Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) and Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen) but when they put it to their boss, Admiral John Godfrey (Jason Isaacs) he thinks it’s a non starter. However Winston Churchill (Simon Russell Beale) is all for it, so “Operation Mincemeat” is on.
Screenwriter Michelle Ashford’s excellent screenplay gives substance and background to the main characters in a well thought out subplot. Montagu’s marriage appears to be in trouble and his wife and child have been despatched to the safely of Canada. There is a strong attraction between him and fellow officer Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald), who has an important role to play in the deception. But this is the forties, when marriage was largely seen as sacrosanct. The somewhat wimpy Cholmondeley, who lives with his mother in the shadow of his dead war hero brother, fancies the girl himself and does his best to break up the budding romance.
But the sub plot never gets in the way of the main thrust of the story, which is sometimes comic, sometimes tragic. And once the game is afoot and the body is dumped in the Mediterranean, the pace and tension quicken nicely.
This may all sound a bit tame to filmgoers brought up on noisy, all action movies. But one of the joys of the film in this age of “mumble” is that, partly because of the social class of the characters and the period, their diction is clear and precise and you can hear every word of Ms Ashford’s literate dialogue. What a delight!