May 10, 2022

“Operation Mincemeat” Tells an Unbelievable True Story (Review)

Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction. Every instance of a bizarre, real-life occurrence not widely known or discussed is fascinating to me, which is why I’m grateful for the film medium: it gives a chance for these stories to be told in an accessible way, no matter what time period the stories are from. Films are something that most everyone can get behind.

Image courtesy of Netflix

This time, director John Madden (Oscar-nominated for Shakespeare in Love) is proving he has the chops to make a bona fide war movie — if you don’t count Captain Corelli’s Mandolin — with Operation Mincemeat, one of those fantastically weird war maneuvers that, despite all odds, was successfully pulled off. The curtain rises in 1943, as the Allies are attempting to disguise their upcoming invasion of Sicily. A deception effort, involving the deceased tramp Glyndwr Michael, was devised, in which Michael would be outfitted as the fictitious Major William Martin (later known as “the man who never was”) of the Royal Marines. Michael’s body was furnished with false documents purporting that Greece and Sardinia were the Allies’ true invasion targets in an effort to lure German forces away from Sicily.

Even though it’s history, I won’t give away the ending of Operation Mincemeat. The dynamic nature of the military operations behind the war are fascinating to behold — enhanced through creative license, I’m sure — but even if you know the outcome, the film continually instills a constant sense of impending doom. There’s a lot of ground to cover in the road to completion, and every few minutes we’re reminded of the risks involved. I’m still impressed that this is a true story.

Image courtesy of Netflix

The cast of Operation Mincemeat, comprised of some of the greatest English actors currently working, is staggering. Colin Firth takes center stage as Ewen Montagu, a Commanding Officer of the Royal Navy who would eventually write one of the first novels to chronicle the events of the supposedly top-secret operation in the 1950s. Firth is joined by Matthew Macfayden, Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton, Johnny Flynn, Jason Isaacs and Mark Gatiss, among many others in the second brilliant ensemble cast in a World War II Netflix drama this year.

The first was Munich: The Edge of War, released earlier this year, which Operation Mincemeat acts as a spiritual sequel to. While Munich chronicles the inception of the war from a political perspective, Mincemeat dives head-on into wartime, delving into strategies that could make or break the Allied defense. The script is unremarkable, but the inescapable insanity of the true story and the history behind everything makes up for some lackluster story developments. A love story is added mid-way through with little set-up and no apparent consequences, which is just further confirmation that focusing on the titular operation is when the film is at its best.

Image courtesy of Netflix

Seventy years after the details were made public and thirty years after its declassification, the details of Operation Mincemeat are once again being put to film. The actual battlefield war is shown sparingly, which is a good move: Operation Mincemeat is not so much a war movie as it is a complicated strategic thriller, in which everything could go sideways very quickly, and the double-crossing and deception goes both ways.

“And so, the hidden war continues.”

Operation Mincemeat is streaming on Netflix tomorrow, May 11. An interview with director John Madden can be found here.

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