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“Operation Mincemeat” looks like a proper British spy drama and for the most part, well, it is. It’s based on the true story of wartime daring and heroism, features a classy cast including Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen and has a director in John Madden (“ Shakespeare in Love ,” the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” movies) who’s made his name with exactly this kind of sturdy, old-fashioned fare.

But the story itself is so absurd and is told with enough surprises and dry humor that it’s constantly engaging. Imagine “Weekend at Bernie’s” set during World War II, with a dash of romance sprinkled in amid the spy craft and physical gags, and you’ll have some idea of the tricky tonal balance this film improbably achieves. “Operation Mincemeat” takes its title from the real-life mission that tricked Hitler into believing the Allies were going to invade Greece, rather than Sicily, in 1943. Ben Macintyre ’s non-fiction book of the same name also provides the basis for television veteran Michelle Ashford ’s sprawling script. But while the film as a whole may seem dense and restrained, the performances and attention to detail consistently bring it to life.

“Operation Mincemeat” also serves as a bit of a James Bond origin story. One of the British intelligence officers behind this unlikely plan was Ian Fleming , who would go on to create the iconic 007 character based on his own experiences working in espionage. So if you ever wondered about the inspiration behind such legendary figures as M and Q, you’re in for some amusing enlightenment. The charismatic actor and singer Johnny Flynn plays Fleming and provides the film’s dramatic narration, accompanied by the clickety-clack of his typewriter while the other members of his interagency intelligence squad get actual work done in their hidden headquarters. But who could blame the aspiring novelist for wanting to take notes? This stuff’s just too juicy.

Firth’s Ewen Montagu and Macfadyen’s Charles Cholmondeley lead the scheme to secure a body, dress it in a military uniform and dump it off the coast of Spain in the hope that it will wash ashore with a briefcase full of fake documents intact. A million pieces large and small must fall into place to ensure that this disinformation falls into precisely the right hands in order to deceive Hitler and break his army’s hold on Europe. And as is the case in any great heist movie, much of the fun comes from watching the players work through their plan. Here, that means creating a fictional identity and backstory for their deceased drifter that’s so complete and air-tight that it won’t raise suspicion. These brainstorming sessions between the officers Montagu and Cholmondeley, clerk Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald) and secretary Hester Leggett (a lovely Penelope Wilton ) have a snappy, lighthearted pace, but they also allow us to get to know these characters as it becomes clear that they’re not just playing a high-stakes game of make-believe. They’re investing their own very-real personalities, dreams and regrets into the made-up Capt. William Martin.

They’re also making themselves vulnerable in a profession that’s all about keeping up your defenses. That extends to the romantic bond that steadily builds between the widowed Jean and Ewen, who sent his wife and kids to America to protect them because they’re Jewish; early scenes suggest that the couple’s marriage was in jeopardy anyway. Macdonald and Firth have a sweet and easy chemistry tinged with the slightest sadness and world-weariness. They’re both great. But this burgeoning relationship grows complicated as it becomes obvious that Charles has feelings for Jean, as well; Macfadyen is mostly stoic, but he gets to deliver plenty of wry zingers. And mistrust begins to bubble up among everyone on the team as deceptions within the deception emerge.

“Operation Mincemeat” grows legitimately tense on both the personal and professional levels as the team executes the mission and waits anxiously to learn whether it was successful. Tiny zigs and zags along the way could mean disaster at any moment, and characters who may have seemed minor at first become majorly important as they’re forced to improvise. At times, you may wish Madden had taken the same kind of chances as the masterminds behind Operation Mincemeat, but his film is still sufficiently rousing.

On Netflix today.

Christy Lemire

Christy Lemire

Christy Lemire is a longtime film critic who has written for since 2013. Before that, she was the film critic for The Associated Press for nearly 15 years and co-hosted the public television series "Ebert Presents At the Movies" opposite Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, with Roger Ebert serving as managing editor. Read her answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here .

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Film Credits

Operation Mincemeat movie poster

Operation Mincemeat (2022)

Rated PG-13 for strong language, some sexual content, brief war violence, disturbing images, and smoking.

128 minutes

Colin Firth as Ewen Montazac

Matthew MacFadyen as Charles Cholmondeley

Johnny Flynn as Ian Fleming

Kelly MacDonald as Jean Leslie

Penelope Wilton as Hester Leggett

Jason Isaacs as Admiral John Godfrey

Mark Gatiss as Ivor Montazac

Hattie Morahan as Iris Montazac

Paul Ritter as Bentley Purchase

Simon Russell Beale as Winston Churchill

Lorne MacFadyen as Sgt. Roger Dearborn / Glyndwr Michael

  • John Madden

Writer (book)

  • Ben Macintyre
  • Michelle Ashford


  • Sebastian Blenkov
  • Victoria Boydell
  • Thomas Newman

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‘Operation Mincemeat’ Review: A Bland Hash

In this World War II drama from Netflix, a team of spies uses a vagrant’s corpse to outwit the Nazis.

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movie review operation mincemeat

By Lena Wilson

Hundreds of thousands of British soldiers died fighting in World War II. “Operation Mincemeat,” directed by John Madden, tells the real-life story of one man drafted into the war effort after death — or rather, it tells the story of the men who conscripted him. In this bizarrely celebratory tale, the titular “mincemeat” is a troubling figure, weighing heavy on the conscience as the men who’ve enlisted him engage in petty infighting.

Colin Firth plays Ewen Montagu, a former barrister who teams up with Charles Cholmondeley, played by Matthew Macfadyen, after hearing his plan to deceive Hitler by using forged papers attached to a corpse. They’re aided by two girls Friday: Hester, Montagu’s steadfast “spinster” secretary played by Penelope Wilton, and Jean, a younger typist played by Kelly Macdonald.

They end up pilfering the corpse of Glyndwr Michael , a homeless Welshman who died from ingesting rat poison. There are conflicting accounts as to whether Montagu and Cholmondeley informed Michael’s family before repurposing his body. Michelle Ashford’s screenplay, based on the book of the same name by Ben Macintyre, has an unexpected relative nearly sabotage their plans before, oddly, disappearing from the script. This seems the filmmakers’ main attempt at injecting some conscience into their protagonists — the scene ends with Montagu declaring, “May God forgive us all.”

But “Operation Mincemeat” is overall light on remorse and far more interested in intrigue, both political and romantic. As the leading men spar over Jean (yawn) and their bond is further threatened by a superior officer with Red Scare accusations, we’re expected to lose ourselves in their human squabbles. Alas, the more provocative Michael — and all the existential and ethical issues he represents — lingers in the periphery.

Operation Mincemeat Rated PG-13 for light sexuality and a gnarly autopsy. Running time: 2 hours 8 minutes. Watch on Netflix.

Lena Wilson is a project manager at The New York Times and a freelance writer covering film, TV, technology and lesbian culture. More about Lena Wilson

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Operation Mincemeat Reviews

movie review operation mincemeat

The melodrama of the unlikely romance is a minor distraction. “Operation Mincemeat” is well-crafted. Michelle Ashford’s script ably handles the intrigue while maintaining tension and injecting dry humor.

Full Review | Oct 31, 2023

movie review operation mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat is a stylish dive into history with a fantastic cast ready to show off their chops at any given moment.

Full Review | Jul 23, 2023

movie review operation mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat is an incredibly thrilling watch if not for the simple fact that this audacious event actually occurred during the second world war.

Full Review | Original Score: 7.5/10 | Jan 4, 2023

movie review operation mincemeat

...progresses at an exceedingly deliberate pace that eventually renders its positive attributes moot...

Full Review | Original Score: 2/4 | Dec 19, 2022

movie review operation mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat does not go gently into that good night. The Argo of World War II is able to overcome the obstacles and avoid the pitfalls in its way to spin and enjoyable and entertaining yarn.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Nov 13, 2022

movie review operation mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat is content to rest on the considerable talents of its stars, Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen, but it lacks a flair for the dramatic that such a wild espionage plot truly deserves.

Full Review | Oct 10, 2022

movie review operation mincemeat

When “Operation Mincemeat” is focusing on the nitty-gritty, the clinical elements of the operation and how these people hope to pull it off in a way that doesn’t get people killed, it can be thrilling.

Full Review | Original Score: B- | Sep 22, 2022

Adapted from Ben Macintyre’s book, the screenplay is a brisk and jolly affair, taking gamey delight in comparing the art of espionage to the fibs of professional storytellers.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Aug 24, 2022

A vaguely enjoyable watch because of the strength of its casting.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Aug 12, 2022

This film is an interesting study not just for history buffs, but also communications and public relations students.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Jul 29, 2022

movie review operation mincemeat

It's a character-driven true story of a British operation in World War II.

Full Review | Original Score: 3 1/2 stars | Jul 15, 2022

movie review operation mincemeat

No heist plot ever sounds as exciting as it is when boiled down to a big-picture overview, and that's true of Operation Mincemeat. It's thrilling on-screen, though, including when it dives into the tiniest of gripping specifics.

Full Review | Jun 24, 2022

movie review operation mincemeat

When the film sticks to the intricacies of the planning and execution of the ruse rather than a half-baked romantic triangle that feels more like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels its quite enjoyable as a matinee feature.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/4 | Jun 13, 2022

So much of the movie's script is exposition... that it feels drowned, too. In addition, illicit romance, jealousy, and competition are pebbled in so that the film's focus pulls from the operation itself.

Full Review | Jun 2, 2022

Academic and relatively vigorous, but never as exciting as the story it tells... [Full review in Spanish]

Full Review | May 27, 2022

movie review operation mincemeat

It’s dutiful, steely-eyed and, alas, just a bit dull.

Full Review | May 25, 2022

movie review operation mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat isn’t fully satisfying but it’s still an interesting yarn to add to the memory bank.

Full Review | Original Score: B- | May 24, 2022

The story and the characters gain literary depth, and the war plot shares screentime with romance. [Full review in Spanish]

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | May 23, 2022

movie review operation mincemeat

The cast is big and typically I eat this espionage stuff up, but Operation Mincemeat is a bloated slog that’s tough to swallow.

Full Review | Original Score: 2/4 | May 21, 2022

A terrific job by John Madden, who we trust to do this sort of thing.

Full Review | May 21, 2022

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‘Operation Mincemeat’ Review: Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen Team Up to Outwit the Nazis in a Standard-Issue War Drama

The real-life Operation Mincemeat was a tactical deception that demonstrated daring and defiance of authority, but John Madden's well-made, well-played film plays wholly by the rules.

By Guy Lodge

Film Critic

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Operation Mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat was an aptly absurd code name for what was, on the face of it, a preposterous British military mission: In 1943, with Allied forces planning to invade Sicily and wrest it from fascist Axis control, two intelligence officers conspired to convince the Nazis they were targeting Greece instead, pulling off the ruse with false documents and the stolen, dressed-up corpse of a fictitious British marine. It’s a true chapter of history that nonetheless sounds like a war film as dreamed up by Ealing Studios scriptwriters; it’s practically begging to be made into a farce, and sure enough, the gag-filled knockabout musical “Operation Mincemeat” hits London stages this very month. As coincidence would have it, the screen version of the same story arrives in U.K. cinemas near-simultaneously, though any similarities end there: stately and stiff-lipped, John Madden ‘s handsome film approaches its tall tale with a very British sense of decorum.

Not that the odd dry joke isn’t cracked in “Operation Mincemeat,” a war drama in which the conflict plays out not on body-strewn beaches but in smoke-filled London strategy rooms — as Churchill’s men wrestle with the burden of knowing the future of the free world might just rest on a hoax not a million miles removed from “Weekend at Bernie’s.” But Madden’s film, written by veteran TV scribe Michelle Ashford (“Masters of Sex,” “The Pacific”), is at pains to dignify the improbable project at every turn, beginning with a sternly florid voiceover reminding us at the outset that in war, “truth is surrounded by a bodyguard of lies.” Given that material and a tony cast of Britain’s finest — led by Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen , exactly the two actors you’d want for a high-stakes intelligence operation — this story of a diversion can hardly fail to be suitably diverting. But you can’t help wishing for a lighter touch behind the camera.

While Warner Bros. is giving “Operation Mincemeat” a full theatrical rollout on home turf, the film will be released to Netflix in the States — not an inappropriate strategy for a two-hour-plus film that, in its predominantly talky tenor and interior scope, could have worked no less successfully in miniseries form. For journeyman director Madden, whose subsequent films have never matched the fizz of “Shakespeare in Love,” this feels like a renewed bid for prestige status roughly akin to Joe Wright’s handling of “Darkest Hour,” another Churchill-administration drama playing out in low-lit, wood-paneled Whitehall chambers.

Here, the bulldog Prime Minister is more spoken of than seen, played by a cranky, crusty Simon Russell Beale in just a couple of scenes. It’s the invisible, undersung men of the intelligence division who take the dusty spotlight here, led by naval representative Ewen Montagu (Firth), introduced in a personal and professional tailspin when his wife and children leave for the safety of America — his marriage its own unresolved conflict. Distraction comes when he’s assigned to collaborate with shy, eccentric MI5 agent and former RAF lieutenant Charles Cholmondeley (Macfadyen), who has hatched a plan to deceive the Nazis with a strategically dumped, information-laden body in European waters — though several key details, not least among them Cholmondeley’s dead-giveaway code name Trojan Horse, have to be ironed out.

Frosty naval intelligence director John Godfrey (Jason Isaacs) is skeptical about the entire endeavor, though in the absence of any more workable plan, Montagu and Macfadyen are given the go-ahead to redevelop the renamed Operation Mincemeat. Joining them on the project are veteran secretary Hester Leggett (Penelope Wilton), enthusiastic MI5 clerk Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald) and Godfrey’s assistant, a certain aspiring writer named Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn) — whose grandiloquent typed reflections on the whole affair provide the film’s running, somewhat overworked narration. The body of a recently deceased vagrant is secured from a drily complicit coroner (British sitcom favorite Paul Ritter, in his final role); with a bit of wit and imagination from all participants, the corpse is fashioned as that of one Royal Marine captain William Martin, set to be floated via submarine off the coast of Spain, with critical fake documents on his person, detailing a planned Allied invasion of Greece.

The pleasures of “Operation Mincemeat” largely lie in the intricate procedural mechanics of the deception itself, from the whimsical fashioning of convincing “pocket litter” (love letters, photographs and the like) for the imaginary captain to the knotty second-guessing and double-bluffing that ensues once the body is found. Working from a non-fiction book by Ben Macintyre, Ashford’s script is pleasingly detail-oriented and lightly droll on that front. It’s a shame, then, that the secondary human drama surrounding the mission feels comparatively contrived and perfunctory: A strenuously polite love story between Montagu and Leslie never lifts off the page, despite the combined charms of Firth and Macdonald, while a subplot involving the possibly duplicitous activities of Montagu’s suspected communist brother Ivor (Mark Gatiss) is itself a wayward diversion.

It’s Macfadyen, fresh off his career-peak work in TV’s “Succession,” who has the chewiest character here in Cholmondeley, a gentle lone wolf whose stoic sense of duty is occasionally at odds with his frustrated aspirations to alpha masculinity. (His lavish walrus mustache perhaps protests too much.) Quiet and occasionally acidic in his line readings, Macfadyen plays with a kind of mournful, pathetic nobility that would have made him a poignant comic hero. As it is, he’s the very odd man out that this otherwise by-the-book film — calmly proficient in all aspects from Sebastian Blenkov’s tea-stained lensing to Thomas Newman’s solemn, ticking-clock score — so desperately needs.

Reviewed at Picturehouse Central, London, April 10, 2022. Running time: 127 MIN.

  • Production: (U.K.-U.S.) A Netflix (in U.S.)/Warner Bros. Pictures (in U.K.) release of a See-Saw Films, Cohen Media Group production in association with Archery Pictures. (World sales: FilmNation Entertainment, New York City; Cross City Films, London.) Producers: Charles S. Cohen, Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, Kris Thykier. Executive producers: Simon Gillis, Christian McLaughlin. Co-producers: Peter Heslop, Nicky Earnshaw.
  • Crew: Director: John Madden. Screenplay: Michelle Ashford, based on the book by Ben Macintyre. Camera: Sebastian Blenkov. Editor: Victoria Boydell. Music: Thomas Newman.
  • With: Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton, Jason Isaacs, Johnny Flynn, Lorne MacFadyen, Mark Gatiss, Mark Bonnar, Simon Russell Beale, Alex Jennings, Paul Ritter, Hattie Morahan.

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Dressed to impress … Matthew Macfadyen, Colin Firth and Johnny Flynn in Operation Mincemeat.

Operation Mincemeat review – Colin Firth heads starry cast in wartime spy caper

Stiff upper lips abound in this stranger-than-fiction tale of second world war espionage, with Firth and Matthew Macfadyen in charge

O peration Mincemeat was the bizarre real-life scheme cooked up by British intelligence in 1943 to fool Nazi Germany into thinking the allies planned to invade Greece and Sardinia, rather than their actual target, Sicily. The corpse of a tramp was dressed up as fictitious “Capt William Martin” and carried elaborate bogus plans for this nonexistent invasion; the body was dumped into the sea so that it would wash up in Spain where the British were confident this phoney intelligence would be obediently passed to the Germans.

Screenwriter Michelle Ashford has adapted the nonfiction bestseller by Ben Macintyre about this extraordinary adventure and John Madden directs, with Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen playing the stiff upper lipped chaps in charge, Ewen Montagu and Charles Cholmondeley. And Johnny Flynn plays naval intelligence’s brightest spark: Lt Cdr Ian Fleming (the future creator of James Bond, who possibly had the idea in the first place) in an entertainingly tongue-in-cheek performance.

In many ways, the most important figure here is the MI5 clerk Jean Leslie (played by Kelly Macdonald) whose photo was placed on the body to be the fake captain’s imagined “girlfriend”. Leslie’s supporting role is part of the way this film is striving for a rather modern emotional intelligence: it is less callous and more caring about the wretched homeless man being used in this way, and the leading players are pondering, like artists, their creation and the light he casts on their own stress and loneliness. It is a bit different from the previous film about Operation Mincemeat, The Man Who Never Was (1956), which was adapted directly from Montagu’s own published memoir, and created a human-interest angle with an entirely fictional and slightly noir-ish subplot about a pro-German Irish spy who investigates the phoney girlfriend, played by Gloria Grahame.

Did the real Operation Mincemeat do any good? This film doesn’t commit itself, but hints at all sorts of spycraft double-bluff which may finally have done the job. This is another of the “home front wartime” Britfilms, such as Munich: The Edge of War , Their Finest, The Imitation Game and Darkest Hour, all probably inspired by the Oscar-winning success of The King’s Speech, which have their emphasis on domestic morale, strategic ingenuity and political shenanigans, rather than battlefield action. Operation Mincemeat is watchable enough, but perhaps can’t find a fictional way into the stranger-than-fiction outrageousness of the scheme itself.

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Colin firth and matthew macfadyen in netflix’s ‘operation mincemeat’: film review.

Kelly Macdonald and Penelope Wilton also star in the true story of a World War II British intelligence unit’s scheme to break Hitler’s grip on Europe with a high-risk diversionary tactic, directed by John Madden.

By David Rooney

David Rooney

Chief Film Critic

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Matthew Macfadyen as Charles Cholmondeley, Colin Firth as Ewen Montagu and Johnny Flynn as Ian Fleming in OPERATION MINCEMEAT.

While traditional American war films tend to lean hard into valor, sacrifice and vigorous patriotism, the British equivalent more often favors heart and faith, duty and stiff-upper-lip resolve, especially in the country’s rich library of home-front dramas. Audiences with affection for the latter will enjoy John Madden ’s Operation Mincemeat , a gripping account of an elaborate World War II espionage deception that helped turn the tide for the Allied Forces in Europe. A far more decorous affair than its macho-burger title would suggest, this is a classy production with a first-rate ensemble cast, splicing the story’s intrigue with a poignant vein of melodrama.

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Warner Bros. released the film in the U.K. April 15, with Netflix to follow in the U.S. and other territories on May 11. It’s a polished example of gently rousing entertainment for wartime history enthusiasts, along the lines of Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest from 2016.

Operation Mincemeat

Release date : Wednesday, May 11 Cast : Colin Firth, Matthew MacFadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton, Johnny Flynn, Jason Isaacs, Mark Gatiss, Hattie Morahan, Paul Ritter, Alex Jennings, Simon Russell Beale Director : John Madden Screenwriter : Michelle Ashford, based on the book by Ben Macintyre

The bonus here for fans of quintessentially British spycraft is the presence of a pre-007 Ian Fleming during his time as assistant to Admiral John Godfrey (steely Jason Isaacs), the head of British Naval Intelligence who became the model for the fictional MI5 chief, “M,” in the James Bond novels. Played with martini-dry wit by a debonair Johnny Flynn , Fleming provides the narration and is frequently seen tapping away at a typewriter on what the viewer assumes will form the foundations of his more celebrated career to come. It’s a low-key running joke that seemingly every second person working in British espionage aspires to a side hustle as a spy novelist.

The stranger-than-fiction case that provides the film’s clunky title is a plan purportedly hatched by Fleming and developed in 1943 by Naval Intelligence officers Ewen Montagu ( Colin Firth ) and Charles Cholmondeley ( Matthew Macfadyen ).

Urgency was building for Britain to find a way into occupied Europe, and Churchill (a gruff Simon Russell Beale) had determined that Sicily was the ideal “soft underbelly” to stage the invasion. But given the ease with which the Germans could anticipate that move, a strategic military deception was necessary. The operation aimed to plant documents outlining a falsified planned invasion of Greece on a corpse that would wash up on the coast of Spain, where the information would be intercepted by Nazi spies.

The episode was filmed by Ronald Neame in 1956 as The Man Who Never Was , which was based on Montagu’s book of the same name and starred Cliffton Webb and Gloria Grahame.

This absorbingly detailed account was adapted from historian Ben Macintyre’s book (also the subject of a 2010 BBC documentary) by television writer Michelle Ashford, whose credits include Masters of Sex and The Pacific . Her script balances a methodical retelling of the complex military deception with robust character portraits of the principal figures involved, giving us a rooting interest not just in the warfare maneuvers but also in the personal stakes of those working behind the scenes.

A distinguished barrister at the Old Bailey, Montagu is introduced at a somber moment during a formal dinner that the guests assume is to announce his retirement. In fact, it’s a farewell for his Jewish wife, Iris (Hattie Morahan), and their children, whom Ewen is packing off to America to safeguard against the potential German occupation of England. A strain in the marriage caused by Ewen’s remoteness and his consuming devotion to his work casts doubt over their future reunion.

While brushing off questions from his nosy gadabout brother Ivor (Mark Gatiss), Montagu digs in with MI5’s Twenty Committee, finding a like-minded ally in Cholmondeley, a former RAF pilot whose big feet and bad eyes prompt his self-deprecating identification as “a flightless bird.” Admiral Godfrey is sniffy about their preposterous deception proposal’s chances of success, but Churchill gives it the go-ahead, so they are installed in a basement office and put to work.

The drama’s most compelling sections are those in which Ewen and Charles seek to make their plan foolproof by attending to every minute background detail concerning the fictitious Naval courier, Major William Martin, whom the Nazis must believe was shot down in the Mediterranean, carrying strategic military information. That begins with finding a corpse that can pass as a drowned man, a brisk search that Ashford injects with both humor and the solemn acknowledgment that they are commandeering a lost human life.

Aided by the staunch director of the Admiralty’s secretarial unit, Hester Leggett ( Penelope Wilton ), they then work against the clock to organize the mission before the body decomposes, synchronizing their efforts with the movements of a submarine sailing from Scotland that would release the body in Spanish coastal waters. That involves not only preparation of the military documents and identification papers but also of personal possessions like a photograph of the Major’s fiancée, a love letter, even the receipt for an engagement ring.

That’s where bright, resourceful MI5 clerk Jean Leslie ( Kelly Macdonald ) comes in. Insisting on a seat at the table in exchange for her contribution, she agrees to provide her photograph to serve as Major Martin’s sweetheart, whom they name Pam. Madden and Ashford deftly intertwine elements of a caper with the dizzying pleasures of creating fiction as the group fills in details of not one but two complete lives, William and Pam.

Where the film inches toward more prosaic territory is in the formation of a delicate romantic triangle as the widowed Jean grows closer with Ewen during late nights in the office or at their regular Soho watering hole, The Gargoyle Club. Their blossoming relationship, while constrained by British reserve and propriety, sparks jealousy in Charles, making him susceptible to Godfrey’s request that he spy on Ewen, whose brother Ivor is a suspected Communist sympathizer believed to be sharing secrets with the Russians.

That subplot is almost one too many, but the film’s melancholy undercurrents, and its keen-eyed observation of the solitude of all four principals, makes the more melodramatic strands both involving and affecting.

The luminous Macdonald is especially lovely as Jean warms to the gentlemanly attentions of Ewen, while Firth conveys the roiling emotions beneath his stiff formality, his uncharacteristic directness becoming quite moving when he summons the nerve to speak openly. This dovetails nicely with the story’s distinction between truth and deception. The indispensable Wilton brings her customary wisdom and clipped authority to a character fully alert to the interpersonal feelings among her colleagues while keeping the larger objective firmly in focus.

But it’s Macfadyen, shedding the smarminess that has made him so beloved as Tom Wambsgans on Succession , who gives the standout performance. Behind his horn-rimmed spectacles and starchy mustache, Charles is a droll though diffident eccentric, perhaps even envious of his war-hero brother, who died on foreign soil and whose return home for a proper burial becomes a leverage tool used by Godfrey. The “purity” of the love between the fictional William and Pam and its sorrowful outcome touches all of them, but Macfadyen makes Charles’ unspoken yearning quietly shattering.

Thomas Newman’s pleasingly understated score favors soulfulness over suspense, but the script accelerates tension from the moment the “drowned” body is loaded onto a donkey cart in Huelva, and an over-zealous local coroner threatens to derail months of meticulous planning. The grave notion of sending 100,000 men into battle in Sicily in what could well be a trap sustains that tension for the duration. Ashford’s amusing eye for character detail is evident even late in the action, with the introduction of Capt. David Ainsworth (Nicholas Rowe), a dashing British agent in Spain, willing to deploy his charms for the cause.

Handsomely shot by Sebastian Blenkov in dark, burnished tones befitting both the era and the secrecy of the plot, this is an agreeably old-fashioned movie elevated by sharp writing, impeccable performances and by a story all the more incredible because it actually happened.

Full credits

Distribution: Netflix Production companies: See-Saw Films, Cohen Media Group, in association with Archery Pictures Cast: Colin Firth, Matthew MacFadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton, Johnny Flynn, Jason Isaacs, Mark Gatiss, Hattie Morahan, Paul Ritter, Alex Jennings, Simon Russell Beale, James Fleet, Nicholas Rowe, Will Keen, Charlotte Hamblin, Lorne Macfadyen, Rufus Wright, Jonjo O’Neill, Ruby Bentall, Ellie Haddington Director: John Madden Screenwriter: Michelle Ashford, based on the book by Ben Macintyre Producers: Charles S. Cohen, Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, Kris Thykier Executive producers: Simon Gillis, Christian McLaughlin Director of photography: Sebastian Blenkov Production designer: John Paul Kelly Costume designer: Andrea Flesch Music: Thomas Newman Editor: Victoria Boydell Casting: Jina Jay

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‘Operation Mincemeat’ Review: Colin Firth Stars in a Middling Netflix Thriller About an Amazing WWII Saga

David ehrlich.

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Around halfway through “Operation Mincemeat” — a busy yet somewhat rousing WWII spy thriller based on the English military scheme of the same name — I began to appreciate why this might be John Madden ’s best movie since “ Shakespeare in Love ”: It’s a story about a bunch of British men (and a smattering of British women) who are trying to stage an elaborate show in the face of escalating crises. Except this time, their audience isn’t the Queen of England, a crowd of rowdy peasants, and a pissed-off Colin Firth . This time, their audience is the Nazi intelligence network, and their lead actor is a pissed-off Colin Firth. And unlike “Shakespeare in Love,” much of this story is actually true. How embarrassing for Hitler.

Here’s the gist of it: Desperate to turn the tide of the war, yet painfully aware that German moles were allowing the Nazis to anticipate their every move, two members of the British intelligence service cooked up a ridiculous plan to misdirect their enemy. It was an idea straight out of the “Weekend at Bernie’s” school of spycraft.

Step one was to find an anonymous corpse (some mincemeat , if you will). Step two was to invent a character for it — the fictitious Captain (Acting Major) William Martin — complete with a detailed and heartbreakingly romantic backstory. Step three was to fill the captain’s jacket pocket with confidential documents that suggested the Allies were intending to invade Greece and Sardinia, and step four was to let the body wash ashore off the coast of Spain, where news of its arrival was sure to spread throughout the Abwehr . If all went well, the Allies would find their actual target — Sicily — sitting relatively unguarded, and would be able to launch the Italian Campaign from there. It was like putting a message in a bottle that said “please let us win the war,” and hoping that it would miraculously wash up at Hitler’s feet 1,000 miles away.

Did Operation Mincemeat work? Madden’s film offers a better answer to that question than history ever has. Nevertheless, this spirited piece of light entertainment also makes clear that its path from crackpot idea to galaxy brain military ruse was filled with as many divots and detours as the evolution from “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter” to Shakespeare’s greatest tale of woe. And while “Operation Mincemeat” is as breezy as you might expect from such a beach read of a dad movie — which is narrated by Johnny Flynn as a young Ian Fleming, so that its target audience doesn’t get put off by the star-crossed love story that forms in the margins of Michelle Ashford’s script — whatever smidgeon of weight it accrues before the end can be traced back to the personal tragedies it kicks up along the way.

The action begins in the early days of 1943, as upper-crust barrister Ewen Montagu (Firth) — who hasn’t tried a case in three years — finally drops the façade and commits to his work as a Naval intelligence officer. Now that his wife and children are fleeing to America (itself a cover story for a rocky marriage), there will be less pressure to keep up appearances. There will also be more reason for Ewen to be wary of his black sheep of a brother, a former Communist firestarter, but that drama won’t rear its head until later in this story of strained loyalties large and small.

Ewen’s partner in crime, on the other hand, believes himself to be the failson of his family. Despite being a relatively high-ranking MI5 agent, Charles Cholmondeley (“Succession” star Matthew Macfadyen , who continues to find success in his exquisite portrayals of failing upwards) still thinks of himself as a sad clown with large feet and bad eyes in the shadow of his war hero brother. Charles can hardly simper his way through a meeting with Churchill (Simon Russell Beale) without emitting all sorts of “the wrong kid died!” energy.

He and Ewen need a win for themselves almost as badly as they need a win for their country, but their furtive camaraderie is soon threatened by the zero-sum love triangle that takes shape when both men swoon — or whatever you call it when monastically repressed middle-aged British spies twitch their stiff upper lips with lust — over the secretary who agrees to pose as the late Capt. Martin’s one true love. An excellent Kelly Macdonald anchors the cast as the willful but wanting Jean Leslie, her performance allowing Ewen, Christopher, and the rest of their semi-informed collaborators to see “Martin’s” corpse as a vessel for all of the emotions they’ve been forced to suppress during the war. And those are the only emotions that “Operation Mincemeat” reliably provokes.

“In any story,” Fleming’s crusty narration intones, “there is that which is seen, and that which is hidden. This is especially true in stories of war.” The implication is that many of the most crucial battles of WWII were fought in the shadows, but “Operation Mincemeat” is most compelling when it takes things a step further and focuses its attention on the wars that people fought within themselves.

The film is primarily interested in the nitty-gritty of planning the ruse; in Ewen and Christopher finding the right corpse, drowning it in the perfect spot, weathering the notes in its jacket pocket so that the coded information they contain seems like an unforced error and not a wacky gambit, etc. Much of this stuff is spryly written and conveyed at a steady pace, even if the characters never miss an opportunity to remind us of the score, resulting in dozens of needless lines such as “Every piece of intelligence says the Nazis are waiting for us in Greece, and every piece of intelligence may be part of the greatest deception the Nazis have ever played.” It’s never a good sign when a spy thriller can’t trust audiences to accept its stakes.

Worse is how “Operation Mincemeat” slices its story into smaller and smaller bits as it goes along, frustrating the film’s more nuanced character work (and disempowering the rich performances behind it). For something that unfolds like a heist movie about the laundering of misinformation, the endless clickety-clack of typewriters simply isn’t able to generate the kind of heart-in-your-throat suspense it needs to keep the plot kicking along.

On the contrary, the movie’s frustratingly brief asides into the private lives of its characters prove far more gripping. The furtive romantic flirtation between Ewen and Jean — often filtered through the love story they invent for their decoy corpse — offers a tension that’s lacking from the results of the operation itself. Even the dynamic between Ewen and Christopher, which is complicated by its own degree of distrust, hints at the far richer drama that’s percolating just below the surface of a thriller that’s too seduced by the absurdities of its own true story.

Whatever their suspicions, Ewen and Christopher obviously both want Britain to win the war; it’s their uncertain loyalties to each other, and their even more uncertain loyalties to their own families, that lead to the real subterfuge. When “Operation Mincemeat” slows down enough to see into those shadows — when the film slows down enough to leverage the fictions its characters invent for the Nazis against the ones they invent for themselves — it finds a hidden war that’s worth fighting to the end.

“Operation Mincemeat” is now streaming on Netflix .

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Operation Mincemeat Review

Three stories, two darcys, and one dead body..

Operation Mincemeat Review - IGN Image

Operation Mincemeat debuts on Netflix on May 11, 2022.

World War II drama Operation Mincemeat takes its title from a real-life ploy: In 1943, British Intelligence tried to convince the Nazi regime that they planned to invade Greece, rather than Sicily, by planting fake documents on the corpse of a tramp they dressed as a British Marine. One of the masterminds behind this plot happened to be Ian Fleming, who would go on to create the character known as 007, James Bond. The story of the operation practically writes itself — and yet, the movie by director John Madden ends up completely scattered. Its attention darts in a dozen directions, none of which feel remotely focused. The result isn’t so much a single film as it is a handful of ideas for wildly different ones, all smashed together with reckless abandon and a near-total lack of intrigue.

Despite its basis in real events, there’s an inherent absurdity to the plot, which Operation Mincemeat doesn’t seem to recognize. The folks behind its marketing certainly do — the trailer is cut as if it were a satire by Armando Iannucci — but the film has a dour, straight-faced tone that rarely matches the bizarre events on screen. Worse yet, its cast of characters (each played by stellar performers) seem to be playing stilted straight-men to no comedians in particular. They’re saddled with little by way of meaningful drama, despite constant gestures towards something important happening in their lives as they carve the bones of the operation.

This is, in part, because the production can’t seem to land on what it’s actually about. It opens with gloomy voiceover from Fleming (Johnny Flynn) about the nature of war and deception, but despite his recurring presence, Fleming himself is a mere observer, peeking in from the corners of a handful of scenes while hinting at which elements of the world around him will eventually form the basis for characters like M and Q. The film is not, however, about the creation of James Bond, despite using it as a framing device (complete with the sounds of a typewriter each time text appears on screen). It certainly doesn’t have enough charm or energy to feel at all Bond-like.

The next best option is to be about the people who executed Fleming’s vision. Col. Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth), a Jewish Naval officer on the verge of divorce, heads the operation alongside former flight lieutenant Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen) — pronounced “Chumly” — and the duo is eventually joined by desk clerk Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald), for whom they both develop feelings. This romantic subplot is spun mostly wholecloth by screenwriter Michelle Ashford (the book from which it was adapted, by author Ben Macintyre, has hints about flirtation at best), but it forms the basis for a narrative approach that proves initially alluring.

Between Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen, who's your preferred Mr. Darcy?

In order to make the corpse seem legitimate, Montagu, Cholmondeley, and Leslie begin spinning a deep backstory for the fictitious soldier. They name him Bill, and they name his fiancé Pam; “Bill” even carries a picture of Pam in his breast pocket, which happens to be a photo of Leslie. As the trio crafts Bill and Pam’s story in detail, they begin to pour more of themselves into the tale, living vicariously through the starry-eyed couple as they wrestle with the disappointments in their personal lives, resulting in scenes where Montagu and Leslie discuss the unreal romance as if they were speaking about themselves. Cholmondeley is left a jealous third party, leading to some pettiness, but this all plays out in its own corner of the film, seemingly disconnected from the overall plot, which chugs along from objective to objective as the operation draws near.

The film utterly fails to take advantage of the fact that its two leading men have played arguably the two hottest and most charming on-screen Mr. Darcys (not to mention the two wettest; who can forget Firth emerging from a lake in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries, or Macfadyen confessing in the rain in the 2004 Joe Wright movie?) It wastes its high-caliber cast and then some, placing Firth and Macdonald in tensionless scenes, in which sparks are implied through dialogue, but completely absent in the staging and blocking. Its supremely British will-they-won’t-they subplot, about two characters who seem to want to act on their feelings but are bound by societal ideals, is a drag when it comes at the cost of the wartime story, and it turns not only the otherwise remarkable Firth into an empty husk, but the equally brilliant Macdonald into a one-note bore.

On one hand, it makes sense that Macfadyen would be something of a slimy, insecure anti-Darcy, given Cholmondeley’s role in this plot — his part is simply to observe; Leslie has no feelings for him whatsoever — but if the Montagu-Leslie story is fictitious to begin with, then why introduce the shadow of a love triangle without having it materialize in the slightest? Why rope three major characters into a predicament that simply peters out, rather than causing complicated sparks that put the mission in jeopardy? Why dramatize, but only ever so slightly, and in a manner that has no bearing on anything else?

Before long, the love triangle ceases to be a focus at all, and the story that overtakes it — about assembling one of the most absurd plans in World War II history — is just as much of a chore to witness. While it may seem strange to suggest that a story set in one of the darkest periods in modern history ought to have been more whimsical, there is, in fact, a case to be made based on the images themselves. As the film zips forward between events (in almost bullet-point fashion), Thomas Newman’s thoughtful, emotionally heavy score — one that works in isolation — drags down the energy of what seems to be edited in the form of zippy montages meant to build to moments of absurdity surrounding the handling of the corpse and the creation of its story. It’s the wrong kind of music for a film that’s edited like a heist caper, just as the performances are all (mostly) ill-fitting. Macfadyen seems to be the exception for the most part; his perturbed reactions and confused expressions hint at him having fully understood what kind of movie he’s in.

Then again, this only applies to his section of the movie, where he’s caught up in spinning a ludicrous tale while dealing with romantic rejection and ruffled feathers. Downton Abbey’s Penelope Wilton, who plays supporting character Hester Leggett — another intelligence officer involved in the operation — is just as brilliant in her thoughtful, melodramatic part, in which she pours her deepest desires and regrets into the correspondence between the fictitious Pam and Bill. There’s a moment where the camera lingers on her as one of these letters is read aloud, and the music swells, and she seems to tell decades of her character’s story through withheld silence. It represents the subplot about authorship and pouring oneself into one’s creations reaching its absolute emotional apex, but the film never gets this thoughtful again, and never again does its focus return to this idea.

Beyond a point, everything in Operation Mincemeat feels like a subplot, including its overarching tale of deceiving the Nazis. Each story feels in service of itself, rather than a larger plot or theme, and their tonal disconnects — both between each other, and within themselves — yield a mess of a movie where few ideas approach fruition. It makes one of the most amusing chapters in 20th century history feel like homework.

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Operation Mincemeat not only does wrong by its stellar cast, but by the absurd story on which it’s based, a World War II plot so much stranger than fiction that it feels perfect for a movie. However, the result is more like three different, disconnected movies smashed together — a comedy about a dead body, a romance with no chemistry, and a history of James Bond author Ian Fleming — none of which is allowed much room to breathe.

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Operation Mincemeat

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REVIEW: Operation Mincemeat Tells a Subdued But Compelling WWII Spy Drama

The well-made, engrossing Operation Mincemeat delivers a humane spy story, always conscious of the personal cost of wartime decisions.

The true story behind Operation Mincemeat is an irresistible stranger-than-fiction tale, which was already brought to the screen once in the 1956 film The Man Who Never Was . The latest adaptation, from director John Madden and screenwriter Michelle Ashford, presents a straightforward, sometimes staid version of the story, led by a talented cast that brings the historical material to life. Released in theaters in the U.K. but debuting in the U.S. on Netflix, Operation Mincemeat is the kind of middlebrow true-life drama that used to be awards-fodder and is now something closer to comfort viewing.

That doesn't mean that Operation Mincemeat isn't a well-made, engrossing movie, though. It would be hard to make the actual facts of the 1943 covert operation less than compelling, and Madden ( Shakespeare in Love , The Debt , Miss Sloane ) and Ashford are both consummate professionals. They add just enough of a personal story to augment the sometimes dry espionage tale, balancing out the military maneuvers with an exploration of the emotional cost of World War II.

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operation-mincemeat-kelly-macdonald-matthew-macfadyen resized

As the movie opens, the war has already taken a toll on Ewen Montagu ( Colin Firth ) and Charles Cholmondeley ( Succession 's Matthew Macfadyen), both members of the Twenty Committee, a British intelligence team in charge of deception and double agents. Ewen has sent his Jewish wife and two young children to live in the United States to keep them safe from potential German attacks on London, and it's put a strain on his marriage. Charles is mourning the battlefield death of his brother, whose body has yet to be returned to the family.

Ewen is a newcomer to the Twenty Committee, but he and Charles are immediately on the same wavelength about the best plan to divert Nazi attention away from a forthcoming Allied invasion of Sicily. The British government wants to convince Adolf Hitler that the Allies are actually planning a massive offensive in Greece so that Nazi troops will be moved away from Sicily. The Committee's priggish, officious leader, Admiral John Godfrey (Jason Isaacs), prefers traditional tactics involving troop maneuvers.

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Ewen and Charles propose a plan from a memo outlined by Godfrey's assistant -- and the future creator of James Bond -- Lt. Commander Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn) instead. They'll plant a corpse in the sea off the coast of Spain made to look like a British pilot who drowned after his plane crashed. The corpse will be carrying official-looking fake papers outlining an operation in Greece, and corrupt officials in ostensibly neutral Spain will funnel those papers to the German military.

The idea is both simple and outlandish, involving far more elaborate planning than it might seem at first glance. The first half of Operation Mincemeat is mostly devoted to the logistics of putting the plan in place. It's exciting and well-paced, even though it largely involves Ewen, Charlie, and the other members of their team taking various meetings. Godfrey gives them only limited resources, setting them up to fail, but Ewen has brought along his ingenious longtime secretary Hester Leggett ( Downton Abbey 's Penelope Wilton), and they also recruit eager clerk Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald). Hester and Jean prove instrumental in crafting the kind of detailed personal background that will make the operation's fake officer seem like the real thing to skeptical German intelligence agents.

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The process of creating a wartime romance for the man they dub Major William Martin brings Ewen and Jean closer together, even as the shy, awkward Charles has eyes for Jean himself. Dedicating time to a love triangle while the fate of an entire military operation is at stake could seem superfluous, but Madden and the actors keep it low-key, giving it the right amount of emotional resonance to demonstrate how devoted these characters are to making sacrifices for their country. They're all prime examples of proper British reserve, whether executing complex espionage maneuvers or pining for unrequited lovers, but the actors convey the strong emotions behind the stiff upper lips.

Both the filmmakers and the characters afford the proper respect to the dead man they choose to become their fake military officer. Operation Mincemeat is a humane sort of spy story, always conscious of the personal cost of wartime decisions. There's less of an emphasis on suspense, although Madden creates tension in certain moments as the team waits for word on whether aspects of their plan have succeeded as intended. Operation Mincemeat is set during a war and culminates in a large-scale invasion, but there's almost no action, just scheming and negotiating. It's a testament to the filmmakers' skill that they can make those moments nearly as exciting as troops storming a beach at night.

Ashford is a TV veteran whose credits include HBO series The Pacific and John Adams , and there's a TV-drama quality to Operation Mincemeat that Madden never quite overcomes. It's not a grand epic, but it's not really meant to be. It's a pleasantly modest movie that effectively illuminates a somewhat forgotten corner of history.

Operation Mincemeat premieres Wednesday, May 11 on Netflix .

‘Operation Mincemeat’ explained: The stolen body and fake intelligence that helped win WWII

Three British officers carrying attache cases in the movie "Operation Mincemeat."

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The Allied victory in World War II hinged on many complex factors, but one of the most unlikely turning points involved the dead body of a Welsh homeless man. In 1943, British intelligence acquired the corpse of Glyndwr Michael from a morgue and dressed him up as a fictitious officer named William Martin, planting fake documents in his clothes to suggest that the Allies planned to invade Greece and Sardinia instead of Sicily.

The idea, a notable example of tactical deception, was to trick Hitler into moving his forces so the Allies could regain control of Europe. It was dubbed Operation Mincemeat — a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment that they were using a dead body — and this largely unknown spy operation is now the subject of a Netflix film of the same name.

The film, directed by John Madden and written by Michelle Ashford, is based on Ben Macintyre’s expansive 2010 book “Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story That Changed the Course of World War II.”

“The story of Operation Mincemeat is true,” explains Macintyre, who was involved in the process of making the film. “Very rarely does spying make much of a difference, but Operation Mincemeat made an enormous difference. And without it — you can’t calculate it — but many, many more lives would have been lost on Sicily’s beaches, including many American lives.”

The 007 connection

The inspiration for the operation dates back to 1939, when British intelligence put together the Trout Memo, a list of 54 possible ideas for how they could fool the enemy. The person responsible for the Trout Memo was none other than James Bond novelist Ian Fleming, then a lieutenant commander. Macintyre says Fleming’s involvement in the operation was “one of the most extraordinary discoveries of this story.”

“Ian Fleming was at that point assistant to the director of Naval Intelligence, Adm. Sir John Godfrey, who would become the model for M in the ‘James Bond’ stories,” Macintyre explains. “One of the things that Fleming did was to draw up, with Godfrey, a memo called the Trout Memo, [which is] now quite famous in intelligence studies.

“One of these ideas, No. 28, was the kernel of this idea, which was to get a dead body and to make it look as if it was an airman who had drowned at sea and equip it with false papers and ship it somewhere. He got the idea from a novel by a man no one ever reads these days called Basil Thomson, who was a pretty dreadful prewar novelist. I love the idea that it comes from a novel and it’s picked up by another novelist.”

It was that meta aspect of the story that most attracted Madden. “They took a fictional idea and tried their very best to make it into an idea that appeared to be absolutely real,” the director adds. “Which then was in danger of being exposed as a fiction and so on. The layers of that. Something immensely attractive about it was this whole thing about writing, about the creation of fiction, and how closely that is allied with espionage.”

Ashford’s screenplay, which was in the works for several years before the film was made, introduces Fleming, played by Johnny Flynn, as the story’s narrator. In a coincidental parallel, Ashford modeled the structure of the screenplay off Madden’s 1998 film “Shakespeare in Love,” taking inspiration from how both stories are about the creation of a fiction that ultimately turns the creators’ lives upside down.

A woman dances with a man in the movie "Operation Mincemeat."

The love triangle

Operation Mincemeat was led by Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) with the help of Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen). The pair borrowed a photograph — now in England’s National Archives — from MI5 secretary Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald) to plant on their fake captain. In the film, Montagu, who was married, becomes involved in an affair with Leslie, which prompts jealousy in Cholmondeley. In reality, it’s uncertain if that affair really happened or whether Cholmondeley had feelings for Leslie.

According to Ashford, it is true that Montagu and Leslie wrote each other a series of letters as fictitious characters and they did sometimes go out. It didn’t feel like a stretch to introduce a love triangle.

“It was a two-hander that I turned into a three-hander,” Ashford explains. “When I ran this up the flagpole, everyone said, ‘That makes sense. That doesn’t feel like a violation of the story.’ Because here’s the thing: We don’t know it didn’t happen. We don’t know that Cholmondeley didn’t have a crush on Jean.”

Macintyre says the affair between Leslie and Montagu has a “decent chance of being true.” The author interviewed Leslie before her death in 2012, but the former secretary refused to acknowledge what had transpired after hours at work.

“She just said, ‘I’m not talking about that anymore. That was a long time ago,’” Macintyre recalls. “In a way that said to me, I think they probably did have an affair, but she doesn’t want to say it. So that element of [the story] has been given a life that we’ll never really know how true it was to life. But that seems, to me, to be perfectly reasonable inside the story like this.”

Adding family ties

Ashford dramatized a few other small elements of “Operation Mincemeat,” including a scene where Glyndwr Michael’s sister is told about his death. The sister character is an invention to help convey that Michael wasn’t simply a prop in a spy mission; he was a real man.

“[It was important] to really try and find in the movie the messiness of war,” Ashford notes. “The fact that they need to do this, but there’s consequences if you just steal a person and stuff them in a life jacket and throw them in the water. I loved that part of the story because I found it complicated and poignant and curious. The sister showing up was a fictionalized element of the story. But he had some family, somewhere. So to make that person appear [is] representative of the fact that that guy came from somewhere.”

The stolen body

While the U.K. government had some freedom to carry out espionage missions behind closed doors, fundamentally Operation Mincemeat was not legal. The intelligence officers colluded with a coroner named Bentley Purchase and took the body from a morgue. After his body was recovered in Spain and the false documents in his pocket made their way into German hands, Michael was buried with military honors as Maj. William Martin.

In Montagu’s 1953 book “The Man Who Never Was” (which was made into a well regarded 1956 movie of the same name with Clifton Webb), the officer claims the government was given permission to use the body and attributes the death to pneumonia. But it wasn’t until 1996 that Michael’s true identity was revealed, and an inscription was added to his tombstone in 1998.

“Basically, they just lifted the body,” Macintyre says. “They believed that nobody would claim it. They believed he had no family. They were wrong about that. They just thought they could get away with stealing the body. It’s as simple as that.”

“The whole thing is macabre and absurd. But one of the reasons the film works so well, I think, is there is a kind of absurd element to it. And that is very true to life. Because the reality is that Montagu and Cholmondeley and the other people involved in this, they were fully aware that there was something ridiculous about what they were doing, which is what gives the film great tension.”

He adds, “It began as a caper. ‘Let’s see if we can hoodwink the enemy.’ But as it went on, they began to realize that they were dealing with incredibly high stakes. If it went wrong, not only were they not going to fool Hitler; they might end up actually sending thousands of people to their deaths.”

For Madden, it was useful to have these emotional, human undercurrents in the film because it might be easy to get bogged down in technical detail. The filmmaker felt that while some of the movie required fictional aspects, everything felt true to the essence of the narrative, as well as to the spy genre itself.

“The story is about speculation,” Madden says. “That’s what an espionage story is about. It’s about guesswork. It’s about hunches. It’s about filling in the gaps. That’s exactly what [the officers] are doing with the fiction they’re creating in the story and hoping that there are no gaps. But, of course, you’re left guessing, even when you’ve covered every single base. The story’s about the creation of a fiction, [and] we were creating our own fiction of this set of events, which themselves are not totally definitive. Because there’s a point where historical research won’t get you any further, and you just have to speculate.”

The historical impact

Looking back, Operation Mincemeat was of monumental importance in shaping the outcome of World War II. While it’s not well known and isn’t typically taught in history classes, the events had a significant impact.

“Europe was just locked down by Hitler and the Germans,” Ashford explains. “[The Allies] were looking at Europe going, ‘How the hell are we going to get in there?’ It was a massive, massive job. And without breaking into Europe and starting to make inroads there, we were going to lose. We were dead. The only way to get in there was to come up through Sicily, and everybody knew it, including the Germans. So how were they going to convince the Germans that’s not what they were doing? So it had made an enormous difference in the war. To say ‘change the course of the war’ is not an overstatement.”

“The idea of planting a false story with the enemy is as old as war — that goes back to the Trojan Horse,” Macintyre adds. “But there’s little doubt that this was the most spectacular military deception ever carried out. It was spectacularly successful. And, of course, it raised the bar thereafter because it meant that all intelligence operations are always looking to see whether they’re being duped.”

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Operation mincemeat, common sense media reviewers.

movie review operation mincemeat

Incredible WWII true story has disturbing scenes, smoking.

Operation Mincemeat movie poster

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

The movie celebrates British eccentricity, but ben

Both Charles Cholmondeley and Ewen Montagu work to

There are two important female characters in the l

World War II bubbles underneath the entire story,

Two characters are seen making out against a wall.

There are a couple of uses of the word "f--k." Als

Near non-stop smoking as nearly every character sm

Parents need to know that Operation Mincemeat is a British World War II drama based on an extraordinary true story, with questionable behavior for the greater good, dead bodies, and smoking. The almost unbelievable story involves two British intelligence officers -- Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) and Charles…

Positive Messages

The movie celebrates British eccentricity, but beneath that a resilience and courage. An overwhelming determination to defeat the common enemy and put an end to Nazism, even if the route to doing so brings the worst out in some.

Positive Role Models

Both Charles Cholmondeley and Ewen Montagu work together and display great bravery, the former even putting himself in precarious situations in the name of honor. The characters are flawed. A married man develops feelings for another, while the main characters are willing to bribe a poor grieving woman to keep quiet about the fact they have used her brother's corpse without permission.

Diverse Representations

There are two important female characters in the leading quartet. But the key players are the men and it's also a predominantly White cast. However, the movie is based on real events and thus this representation reflects the story being told.

Did we miss something on diversity? Suggest an update.

Violence & Scariness

World War II bubbles underneath the entire story, with a whole variety of characters grieving those they've lost in battle. The characters "choose" a corpse for their operation, with many seen, including a child's. The corpse they do use is shown frequently. An autopsy shows innards being pulled out of a stomach. Someone is threatened with death unless they divulge all information regarding the secret operation. Conflict including soldiers being shot and killed as they approach land from their boats.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Sex, Romance & Nudity

Two characters are seen making out against a wall. A character touches another's genitals in an attempt to gain vital information.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

There are a couple of uses of the word "f--k." Also heard are "bollocks," "bastard," "t-ts," and "arse."

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Near non-stop smoking as nearly every character smokes. Characters drink alcohol frequently too, in bars, offices, and at home. A character declares that they "need" a drink, even though it's 8 a.m. One character drink drives.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Operation Mincemeat is a British World War II drama based on an extraordinary true story, with questionable behavior for the greater good, dead bodies, and smoking. The almost unbelievable story involves two British intelligence officers -- Ewen Montagu ( Colin Firth ) and Charles Cholmondeley ( Matthew Macfadyen ) -- using a corpse to distract the Nazis, allowing British troops to get to safety. The characters are flawed, and while very proud, dignified, and courageous, they resort to bribery and other dubious means. They also show little respect for the corpse they use for their plan and some scenes make for an uncomfortable watch, especially an autopsy scene. War and violence play in the background, with soldiers being shot at and killed. There is one scene where a straight man touches another man's genitals, to help move their operation along. There are a couple of uses of "f--k," as well as "bollocks" and "bastard." The smoking is non-stop, representative of the time period. There is much drinking too and one character is seen driving under the influence. The cast is not particular diverse, mostly made up of White males. But there are two leading roles belonging to women. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails .

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Community Reviews

  • Parents say (5)
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Based on 5 parent reviews

Not successfull

Heads up about excessively suggestive sexual encounters and three f-words, what's the story.

OPERATION MINCEMEAT tells a remarkable true story of espionage and deception. With World War II ongoing, a major battle is on the horizon in Sicily, and it's one that will cost the British army countless lives. So two intelligence officers, Ewen Montagu ( Colin Firth ) and Charles Cholmondeley ( Matthew Macfadyen ), come up with a plan -- to divert the Germans to Greece, and allow the British soldiers onto shore with minimal obstruction. The plan is to ensure a planted corpse washes up on a beach containing fake documents. What could possibly go wrong?

Is It Any Good?

This drama -- based on real events -- is such a brilliantly cinematic story, it almost feels as if it would have been impossible to get wrong. That said, Operation Mincemeat still required an accomplished, deft hand to bring it to life, and do it the justice it deserves. Thankfully director John Madden more than delivers. Helped along by the great cast, with Macfadyen in particular stealing the show, the film moves seamlessly between different genres. Given it's a tale that is so enriched by its hard-to-believe elements, the filmmakers have used this as a platform to take a heightened take on proceedings.

The film has stories within the story, and celebrates the entire notion of artistic deception. And yet, it's remarkably more moving than anticipated, as the whole operation, despite being so bombastic, is tinged with a profound sadness. Not only for the man whose body they're literally using for their own gain, but for the ongoing war, highlighting the mad lengths people will go to in a desperate bid to overcome fascism. Perhaps the one downside is that, tonally, it could have been even more overstated -- something rarely said about films. The story is so inconceivable, it almost feels like the filmmakers could have reveled more in its comedic moments, instead opting to take a more serious approach.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about the historical context of Operation Mincemeat . Did you know anything about this story? Can you believe it's based on real events? Has the film inspired you to learn more about WWII? How to talk to kids about violence, crime, and war.

How was drinking and smoking depicted in the film? Were they glamorized? How has our behavior when it comes to drinking and smoking changed from when the movie was set?

Talk about the behavior of Montagu and Cholmondeley. Would you describe them as positive role models ? Did you find anything they did questionable?

Movie Details

  • In theaters : May 6, 2022
  • On DVD or streaming : May 11, 2022
  • Cast : Colin Firth , Matthew Macfadyen , Kelly Macdonald
  • Director : John Madden
  • Inclusion Information : Female actors
  • Studio : Netflix
  • Genre : Drama
  • Topics : History
  • Character Strengths : Courage , Teamwork
  • Run time : 128 minutes
  • MPAA rating : PG-13
  • MPAA explanation : strong language, some sexual content, brief war violence, disturbing images, and smoking
  • Last updated : October 30, 2023

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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Operation Mincemeat’ on Netflix, a So-Crazy-It-Just-Might-Work True World War II Story Ferried Along by Colin Firth

Where to stream:.

  • Operation Mincemeat

Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Napoleon’ on VOD, a Cloddish Biopic-Romance-Battle Epic That Does Joaquin Phoenix No Favors

Stream it or skip it: 'world war ii: from the frontlines' on netflix, a docuseries that illustrates the massive war with enhanced footage, ‘napoleon’ review: ridley scott’s farcical epic turns joaquin phoenix’s titular tyrant into a foolish loser, stream it or skip it: ‘the covenant’ on prime video, guy ritchie's rousing stab at earnest modern-wartime storytelling.

This week on Bangers and Mash Theatre (please pronounce this thea-TAHH) is Netflix historical drama Operation Mincemeat , a BOATS ( Based On A True Story ) movie about English tweedsters doing their damnedest to put one over on ol’ Hitler during World War II. The nonpareil Colin Firth (why hasn’t he been knighted yet?), Succession star Matthew Macfadyen and the ever-underrated Kelly Macdonald play the military spy-types who concoct a so-crazy-it-just-might-work / against-the-odds / stranger-than-fiction scheme that seems like a perfect movie plot for Brits to mutter their way through for more than two hours. Now let’s see how it fares in the hands of Shakespeare in Love and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel director John Madden, shall we?


The Gist: JULY 10, 1943: Can I go one measly week without this hackneyed-ass extended-flashback structure? Probably not! A solemn Firth voiceover goes on about the seen and hidden battles of wartime, and he’s one who fights on a “battleground in shades of gray.” We see a submarine surface at nighttime. It drops something in the water as battleships ready themselves for the thing that’s the first part of that compound word. SIX MONTHS EARLIER (deep sigh), we learn that Firth’s voice belongs to Ewen Montagu, former counsel to the King, now a man of mysterious profession, the kind that he can’t talk about unless you have security clearance. His marriage is in the crapper. The Nazis are advancing across Europe. His wife and kids are going to America to avoid the inevitable blitzkrieg on British shores, which means Dunkirk isn’t even a thing for Christopher Nolan to make a movie about yet. Most of this sucks for all of us, but all of it sucks for Montagu.

He sits down with a bunch of pale important men to discuss British war strategy. The German fascists have a stronghold in Italy. The Brits want to pretend to launch an offensive via Greece so Hitler averts his forces from Italy, thus opening the island of Sicily for easy invasion. How will the Brits pull this off? By planting false intelligence on a dead body and making sure it falls into German hands, after spending six months sowing the seeds for such a feint via embedded British spies and wiretaps and the like, and creating a soldier’s backstory for the body all the way down to the tiniest detail, duh . It seems so obvious now, doesn’t it? And guess what, even Winston Churchill himself (Simon Russell Beale) – who at this point already has done things to inspire Joe Wright to hire Gary Oldman to play him – signed off on the plan, but not before gravely orating, “If we don’t fool the Nazis and the enemy is waiting for us on those beaches, history herself will avert her eyes from the slaughter.” No pressure!

So Montagu heads The Twenty Committee and their main maneuver, dubbed Operation Mincemeat, because Operation Fake Dead Guy was too on-the-nose. His closest counsel consists of Hester Leggett (Penelope Wilton), Jean Leslie (Macdonald) and 17-time winner of Most British Name Ever, Male Category, Charles Cholmondeley (Macfadyen). As they find the perfect dead guy and concoct a fictional life for him – a photo of his fiancee, a letter from her full of yearning, etc. – for the sake of believability, and plan a series of maneuvers to get him into the hands of the murderous bastards who are their enemy, we learn about how sad our three principals are: Montagu’s strained marriage finds him taking a shine to the widow Leslie, although Cholmondeley is also interested in her, and single, and therefore the more viable romantic candidate despite his being an utter dorkwad. There’s also some question as to whether Montagu’s brother, who lives with him, is entirely loyal to his country, and the added melancholy of Cholmondeley’s predicament, which involves still living with his mother, who mourns his late war-hero brother, as well as the added assignment of discerning whether the Other Montagu is committing treason.

Complications, complications. But none are more complicated than the wargames here – getting the Nazis to swallow their little corpse scheme, then hoping that they’re not onto the scheme and counterscheming with their own phony intelligence, and therefore only pretending to avert forces to Greece while actually remaining fortified in Sicily. And it’s even more complicated than that, believe it or not. The layers of suspense really stack up in this one, I tell you.

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: This story was told in celluloid before, in 1955’s The Man Who Never Was , which borrowed its title from the real-life Montagu’s memoir. Operation Mincemeat would pair nicely with The Imitation Game , as both involve British buttoned-ups sweating it out in secret locales, hoping their parallel spy-game/shadow-war maneuvers are successful.

Performance Worth Watching: Come for Firth, who’s typically excellent but not challenged here, stay for Macfadyen’s complicated maneuvering and Macdonald’s strong-independent-woman character who’s the emotional heart of the film.

Memorable Dialogue: Montagu: “Well. What say we start with the easy part and find ourselves a corpse?”

Sex and Skin: In British Movies of Propriety like this one, the mere twitch of an eyebrow follicle signaling sexual attraction buried beneath several layers of wool – e.g. between Montagu and Leslie – is enough to earn an NC-17. Translation for the relatively unrepressed: There is no sex or skin in this movie.

Our Take: There’s a conspicuous sense that all parties involved with Operation Mincemeat have so crisply honed their skills with this type of material that they could execute it in their sleep. A backhanded compliment? Ever so slightly, but that doesn’t render the film a dud, rather, mostly the opposite, as cast and director quite competently navigate period sets in period neckties and dresses, finding tiny little moments of understated wit – e.g., a line like, “We are not sending 100,000 men into battle on a missing eyelash!” –- amidst period interpersonal dynamics. It’s a good movie – period? Sure. Period.

The film’s keenest irony is how it underscores the madness of the deception plan – which makes putting a message in a bottle and tossing it in the ocean a viable alternative – with British decorum, which all but demands that no one raise their voice or unbutton a collar despite the mighty, sweaty-bollocks tension of a situation. There are moments when the film lists a bit under the weight of a needless subplot or two (the my-brother-might-be-a-Russian-spy one, for example) at the expense of further quietly delightful interactions between Macdonald (showing complex character shades) and Firth (in a role Michael Caine might’ve played 25 years ago). And visually, it’s Just Fine, maybe making one wish for the vibrant indulgences of a Joe Wright endeavor. It’s nevertheless a wholly watchable, reasonably entertaining, finely crafted wartime non-fable with a nice little romantic current running through it.

Will you stream or skip the World War II historical drama #OperationMincemeat on @netflix ? #SIOSI — Decider (@decider) May 12, 2022

Our Call: STREAM IT. Operation Mincemeat gets the job done respectably.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at .

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movie review operation mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat Review

Operation Mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat is a gift to storytellers. It’s a minor but significant chapter of World War II that would seem far-fetched if it wasn’t, in fact, actual history: yes, the British government did once take the corpse of a homeless man, dress him in an officer’s uniform, fill his pockets with fake documents (including a love letter from a fictitious sweetheart, complete with backstory) and hope to pull the wool over the Nazi’s eyes. It’s a tantalising premise that demonstrates the lengths the Allies were willing to go: high stakes, mixed with high farce.

Operation Mincemeat

John Madden ’s film nicely balances the ongoing grief and trauma of a brutal war with rich period details and even a modest sense of fun. When it really pops, the whole thing unfurls almost like a caper by way of Ealing Studios, as the team — led by three enjoyably dry turns from Colin Firth , Matthew Macfadyen and Kelly Macdonald — meticulously plan out every eventuality, ad absurdum. (A scene where Firth attempts to photograph a corpse sitting upright is morbidly funny.)

This is a British film to its tea-soaked core.

That audacious tone is helped by the fun footnote that the operation was likely the brainchild of a young Ian Fleming ( Johnny Flynn ), whose taste for espionage would later fuel his James Bond novels, and understandably, the film can’t resist a few sly nods-and-winks to 007’s future.

But the crackling pace is somewhat interrupted by a soapy love triangle between the three leads, which feels slightly shoehorned in, with chemistry that never fully materialises. Perhaps it’s because every upper lip here is resolutely stiff: this is a British film to its tea-soaked core, and while that may lose it a bit of cinematic ambition (Madden also directed both Best Exotic Marigold Hotel films, which hints at the target audience here), it is an undeniably rousing watch, even in its highest moments of drama: destined to become a Bank Holiday staple.

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Operating Mincemeat

Movies | 05 10 2021

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movie review operation mincemeat

  • DVD & Streaming

Operation Mincemeat

Content caution.

Operation Mincemeat movie

In Theaters

  • Colin Firth as Ewen Montagu; Matthew Macfadyen as Charles Cholmondeley; Kelly Macdonald as Jean Leslie; Penelope Wilton as Hester Leggett; Jason Isaacs as Admiral John Godfrey; Rufus Wright as Lt. Bill Jewell; Ruby Bentall as Connie Bukes; Charlotte Hamblin as Patricia Trehearne; Johnny Flynn as Ian Fleming; Lorne MacFadyen as Sgt. Roger Dearborn; Mark Gatiss as Ivor Montagu; Hattie Morahan as Iris Montagu; Simon Russell Beale as Winston Churchill; Alex Jennings as John Masterman

Home Release Date

  • May 11, 2022
  • John Madden


Movie review.

In war, death is as common as a breath of air. Bullets whiz, explosions light up the landscape and bodies collapse to the ground. Young men push their way through the unimaginable to claim mere inches of soil.

But behind the scenes, another war is raging—a war of whispers. And this war is not won through good aim or a quick trigger finger. It’s won through deception, codebreakers and mental strategy. What’s more, this behind-the-scenes battle will directly affect the outcome of its bloodier counterpart.

That’s why Ewen Montagu and Charles Cholmondeley are desperately working on Operation Mincemeat, a plan they hope will change, and help win, World War II. They know that Winston Churchill is planning to send British troops to storm the beaches of Sicily to march towards Rome and knock Italy out of the war. They also know that for that plan to not be a total slaughter of young British soldiers, they need to fool the German troops into moving their stationed men out of the country under the impression that the British are attacking elsewhere.

How will Ewen and Charles manage that deception? Well, it’s a bit of a long shot, but it’s the best they’ve got: They’ll dress up a recently deceased corpse as a decorated British officer—Major William Martin, they’ll call him—and a fake letter regarding non-existent plans to invade Greece. Then, they’ll drop the body off the coast of Spain and hope the neutral country delivers the documents straight to the office of the Führer himself.

The strategy has so many holes that it’ll take a miracle for it to work. According to Churchill, however, it’s just what they need.

“The plan is risky,” Churchill says. “It’s also highly implausible. Meaning that all the reasons it shouldn’t work are the same reasons the Germans might believe it’s true.”

Positive Elements

Early in the film, Ewen is forced to send his wife, Iris, and children to live in America for their protection because Iris is Jewish. However, Ewen hints that Iris will likely never return because she wants a divorce. Though Iris says that marriages change, and romance and love belong to the young, Ewen says that he doesn’t believe that statement. Instead, he wants to sacrifice for her happiness—even at the expense of his own.

The mission itself, of course, is designed to foil the hopes and dreams of World War II’s European Axis powers of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. While war is often a murky business, few would argue that this war was as justified as war can be. And certainly, the goal of saving British lives is a worthy one, as well.

Admittedly, the plan involved the morally dubious use of a man’s corpse. In real life, the corpse was known only by its fake name (Major William Martin) for 50 years. It was not until 1996 that his identity was recognized—Glyndwr Michael. And, in a nice real-world turn, the British Government honored Glyndwr in 1997 by adding an epitaph to his tombstone recognizing him by his name.

[ Spoiler Warning ] Though the movie does not fully explore it, it does give a nod to the German people who actively resisted Hitler and the Nazi regime as “Hitler’s favorite intelligence analyst,” Alexis von Roenne, intentionally approves the deceptive documents. Like the other characters in the story, von Roenne was a real person, working for Germany’s military-intelligence service known as the Abwehr. He was also secretly working against the Nazis because he felt that the Nazi Party ran against his beliefs as a Christian. During his life, he misled Hitler to assist the Allies secretly, including with Operation Mincemeat. Eventually, von Roenne was arrested in connection to conspirators of the 20 July plot to assassinate Hitler. He would later be found guilty and executed.

Spiritual Elements

Hester, a woman who works with Ewen and Charles, begins to pray, causing others to join in. In creating a fake life for their corpse, Jean, another woman who works with the two, says that William’s mother was a devout Catholic. Jean says that she wants to “say a prayer to St. Jude.” Jean talks about the grace of God.

Ewen says his wife Iris is “wiser than Solomon, stronger than Samson and more patient than Job.” Ewen creates a fictional girlfriend for William and says that she’s a “demon on the dance floor.” Ewen says that he doesn’t need to be reminded of his sins. Charles quotes 1 Cor. 15:52 over the corpse as they drop it into the ocean.

A couple of characters perform the sign of the cross. A nurse tells someone that God forgives them. Someone says “Godspeed” and “May God forgive us all.” A soldier mentions that he left his Bible below deck. A Spanish priest says, “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, amen.”

Sexual Content

A man and a woman kiss one another passionately in order to hide the fact that they are listening in on a private conversation, and the woman moans. A male spy is forced to stimulate the clothed genitals of another man in order to gain information, and the man is heard moaning. The corpse is seen naked on a coroner’s operating table, though no explicit parts can be seen.

Ewen hints that Iris wants a divorce. Various people greet and bid farewell with kisses on the cheek. A man is called a “skirt chaser.”

Both Ewen and Charles have obvious interests in Jean, and Jean has a fondness for Ewen, who is still married (though he believes he will never see his wife again). Ewen and Jean intentionally spend extra time than needed with one another, and there is occasional romantic tension between the two.

Violent Content

Ewen forcefully grabs Charles in a confrontation. Soldiers are shot and killed or hit by explosions in a battle, though there is little actual blood seen. Hitler shatters a glass in anger.

Charles’ brother is said to have been killed in war. Jean references that her husband died. A man is said to have committed suicide by ingesting rat poison. Off-screen, a child finds an unexploded firebomb.

Crude or Profane Language

The f-word is used three times. “A–,” “b–tard,” “h—” and “d–n” are all used sparingly. The British slurs “bloody” and “bollocks” are used occasionally, and crude references to breasts and male genitals are made. God’s name is misused nine times, and Jesus’ name is inappropriately used three times.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Various characters casually drink alcohol and smoke cigars and cigarettes throughout the film. One character is said to be on his sixth drink and is visibly impaired.

Other Negative Elements

A drunk man drives recklessly. A coroner visibly removes the innards of an extremely bloated corpse, causing a man to vomit. Ewen and Charles both state that they might vomit. Ewen and Charles visit various morgues for corpses to use: Some cadavers are shown on screen, and one is a child. While Ewen and Charles look at one off-screen corpse, they ask where its legs are. When they find a suitable corpse, they attempt to take photos of it as if it were alive.

As soldiers dodge bullets on the front lines, men and women work fervently in the background to ensure those bloody battles can be mitigated at all costs.

Codebreakers such as Alan Turing decipher daily the plans of Axis troops. Strategists create, scrap and recreate countless plans in anticipation of expected Axis movements like a macabre dance of game theory. And Ewen and Charles, two military men in intelligence work, are putting together what some consider to be the strangest military operation that the British have ever conceived.

The complications which could arise from such a plan were countless. What if Spain gives the British authorities the papers back before Germany gets to read them? What if the ocean water causes the ink on the documents to fade away? What if the corpse doesn’t even float to Spain?

It’s a plan so fantastical that it could cause viewers to think the movie’s plot absolutely ridiculous—if it hadn’t actually happened in real life. And while Operation Mincemeat was a real plan, what moviegoers may find even more fantastical is that Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, helped work on the project. In fact, many of his ideas for James Bond were a direct result of working within the Naval Intelligence Division. According to Fleming, Bond “was a compound of all the secret agents and commando types I met during the war.”

Though set during World War II, little violence appears on screen apart from a single scene of soldiers in combat. Instead, the film focuses on those working in the background—and it offers a romantic subplot which feels somewhat misplaced within the film itself. Viewers should be aware of a couple sexual scenes (noted in our Sexual Content section). People frequently smoke and drink, and crude language is sometimes heard.

Operation Mincemeat features a side of war that typically doesn’t make the big screen—the planning and strategy side. We won’t be following a unit of soldiers as they make their way behind enemy lines and bond in their brotherhood. As Operation Mincemeat shows us, sometimes there’s more than one way to save private Ryan—through intelligence officers preventing the slaughter to begin with. It’s these secretive heroes who the film focuses on, providing not only praise for the operatives and their plan but also paying respect to the person whose corpse they used to accomplish it.

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Kennedy Unthank

Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics. He doesn’t think the ending of Lost was “that bad.”

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Operation Mincemeat review: A deceptively good WWII thriller

Rick Marshall

War films — or any movies based on historical events, for that matter — can be tricky. In most cases, the audience knows where events will ultimately lead, so the story needs to create drama and intrigue out of the material that isn’t well-known and let the characters and their relationships draw you into a particular chapter in history.

The Netflix film Operation Mincemeat faces exactly that sort of conundrum with its dramatization of the titular, secret plan by Allied forces to trick the Nazis and hide the 1943 invasion of Sicily in the lead-up to that landmark mission. We know the Allied forces eventually win the war, after all, but filmmaker John Madden’s feature still manages to manufacture plenty of compelling moments in telling the story of one of history’s greatest wartime acts of deception.

Directed by Madden ( Shakespeare in Love ) from a script penned by  The Pacific and  Masters of Sex screenwriter Michelle Ashford,  Operation Mincemeat is based on Ben Macintyre’s 2020 novel of the same name and chronicles the efforts of the small group of British military officers and their assistants who conceived and enacted a plan to make the Nazis believe Allied forces planned to invade Greece instead of Sicily — thereby diverting the German military away from Italy. To do so, the group crafted an elaborate ruse involving a corpse dressed like a high-ranking officer carrying official military correspondence being dropped in the ocean off the coast of Spain.

It was an audacious plan, certainly, and Madden’s film details many of the intricate details the team of espionage experts — which included James Bond author Ian Fleming — needed to not only account for, but go to alarming lengths to corroborate in order to stay ahead of their German counterparts.

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The cast of  Operation Mincemeat is led by Oscar-winner Colin Firth ( The King’s Speech ) as Naval intelligence officer and judge Ewen Montagu and Matthew Macfadyen ( Pride & Prejudice , Succession ) as MI5 agent Charles Cholmondeley, who are tasked with implementing Operation Mincemeat — named for the corpse that’s so integral to the plan. They’re joined by Kelly Macdonald ( No Country For Old Men ) as Jean Leslie, a woman working as an MI5 clerk who plays an important role in the deception, and Penelope Wilton ( Downton Abbey ) as Hester Leggett, Montagu’s most trusted assistant. The cast is filled out by Jason Isaacs and Johnny Flynn as Naval intelligence director John Godfrey and his assistant, Ian Fleming, respectively.

Operation Mincemeat is at its best when the story dives into the team’s efforts to outthink the Germans by not only giving them a corpse, but an entire, fabricated history for the deceased, homeless drifter they transformed into the fictional Capt. William Martin, officer of the Royal Marines. Their efforts to think several steps ahead of their counterparts and anticipate any element that would raise Nazi agents’ suspicion is fascinating, with Macfadyen’s portrayal of Cholmondeley channeling a detail-oriented obsession that makes him both painfully awkward and absolutely indispensable for the mission at hand.

The lengths to which the group goes to sell their ruse — and maintain the secret — keeps the story compelling, and watching the various members create and solidify the fictitious life of the dead officer at the crux of the operation adds another layer of intrigue and depth to the film.

Where Operation Mincemeat falters, however, is in its willingness to sideline the efforts of the group for a romantic subplot involving Montagu and Leslie, who — the story wants us to believe — find themselves becoming emotionally involved as a result of becoming too immersed in the fiction they’ve created for the soldier and the (equally fictional) woman he loves. Their relationship in the film feels like an entirely unnecessary plot thread that, at best, distracts from the otherwise captivating story of the mission, and at worst, cheapens their respective characters’ roles by turning them into star-crossed lovers who wandered into an espionage thriller.

Fortunately, the film’s insistence on seeing that romantic subplot through doesn’t entirely overshadow fine performances by the cast.

Firth and Macfadyen have an entertaining relationship that teeters on the brink of adversarial, but the film opts not to explore that well-worn trope. Their characters never seem to forget that the mission is more important than their personal squabbles, which isn’t the way these sorts of stories typically go. Rather than exploit the presence of Fleming in these real-world historical events, the film makes smart use of him as a supporting character, teasing some of the elements that would inspire his stories but keeping him at a distance, lest the specter of his later, famous works overshadow the characters and personalities at play in this particular moment of time.

While  Operation Mincemeat could have benefitted from more focus on the secret project in its title than the extraneous plot threads it pulls at, once you cut through all the romantic filler, the film still delivers an entertaining, effective dramatization of a particular moment in time that’s more deserving of attention.

Director John Madden’s Operation Mincemeat is available in theaters and on the Netflix streaming service .

Operation Mincemeat (2022)

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Rick Marshall

Animated adaptations of video games are in a surprisingly good place right now -- particularly on Netflix, where shows like Arcane, Castlevania, and even Carmen Sandiego have delivered rewarding extensions of their respective franchises. That continues with Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, which serves up a wild anime adventure set in the world of 2020's Cyberpunk 2077.

Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi (Gurren Lagann)  and Hiromi Wakabayashi (Star Wars: Visions), Cyberpunk: Edgerunners follows a teenage boy pulled into a dark world of high-tech mercenaries known as "Edgerunners." As he's drawn ever deeper into the world of body modification and corporate espionage, David (voiced by Zach Aguilar in the English version of the series) soon finds himself struggling to figure out what's truly important and where to draw the line when it comes to his cybernetic implants.

Steven Spielberg has spent his entire career channeling the heartache of his childhood into movies. He’s never really hesitated to admit as much, confessing publicly to the autobiographical elements woven through sensitive sensations like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Catch Me If You Can, and especially his now 40-year-old E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, an all-ages, all-time smash that welcomed the world into the melancholy of his broken home via the friendship between a sad, lonely kid and a new friend from the stars. By now, all of that baggage is inextricable from the mythology of Hollywood’s most beloved hitmaker: It’s conventional wisdom that Spielberg’s talent for replicating the awe and terror of childhood comes from the way that his own has continued to weigh, more than half a century later, on his heart and mind.

With his new coming-of-age drama The Fabelmans, Spielberg drops all but the barest pretense of artificial distance between his work and those experiences. Co-written with Tony Kushner, the great playwright who’s scripted some of the director’s recent forays into the American past (including last year’s luminous West Side Story), the film tells the very lightly fictionalized tale of an idealistic kid from a Jewish family, growing up in the American Southwest, falling in love with the cinema as his parents fall out of love with each other. Every scene of the film feels plucked from the nickelodeon of Spielberg’s memories. It’s the big-screen memoir as a twinkly-tragic spectacle of therapeutic exorcism.

Like the drawling Southern detective he has now placed at the center of two fabulously entertaining clockwork whodunits, Rian Johnson should not be underestimated. The writer, director, and blockbuster puzzle enthusiast has a gift for luring his audience onto ornately patterned rugs, then giving their edges a powerful yank. Glass Onion at first seems like a more straightforward, less elegant act of Agatha Christie homage than its predecessor, the murder-mystery sleeper Knives Out. But to assume you’ve gotten ahead of it, or seen every nature of trick Johnson has concealed under his sleeve, is to fall into the same trap as the potential culprits who dare trifle with the great Benoit Blanc (a joyfully re-invested Daniel Craig).

Anyone annoyed by the topical culture-war trappings of Knives Out (all that background MAGA chatter and drawing-room conversation on immigration policy) may be irked anew by how Glass Onion situates itself rather explicitly at the onset of COVID, with an opening series of introductions heavy on face wear and video chats. Even Johnson, first-rate showman that he is, can’t make these reminders of the recent, dismal past very funny.

Screen Rant

Operation mincemeat review: colin firth war drama is diverting & forgettable.

Operation Mincemeat's collection of British talent is its greatest asset, but the film is too content to coast on watching them do their thing.

At a time when the latest Marvel movie will be stomping its way through the box office, turning on  Operation Mincemeat  —  the kind of star-studded, adult-oriented, mid-range drama that studios don't often greenlight anymore — might feel like an act of resistance. While British audiences have the option of buying a ticket for it instead of  Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness , most American viewers will have to be content with queueing it up at home, but thinking about the viewing experience in those oppositional terms might actually help it. On its own, it's unlikely to inspire strong, polarized responses.  Operation Mincemeat  is a solid movie, the only reasonable reactions to which are mild. A small smile and a nod of approval on one end of the spectrum, a tilt of the head and a dismissive shrug on the other. Someone watching it out of a desire to comment on the entertainment industry, and seeing themselves as part of a community of likeminded rebels, might be the only chance it has at making any sustainable impact on their psyche.

Based on a genuine World War II military undertaking, director John Madden's  Operation Mincemeat  tells the story of how British Military Intelligence convinced Nazi Germany that the Allies were planning to invade Greece instead of Sicily by loading up a corpse with fake documents and beaching it on the Spanish coast. The two in charge of leading the so-crazy-it-just-might-work scheme are Colin Firth's Ewen Montagu, a Naval officer who accepts the assignment after his wife and children flee to America, and Matthew Macfadyen's Charles Cholmondeley, a lonely bachelor eager to step out from beneath the shadow of his recently fallen, war-hero brother. They team up with Penelope Winton's Hester Leggett, Kelly Macdonald's Jean Leslie, and Johnny Flynn's ( future James Bond creator) Ian Fleming, with Jason Isaacs playing John Godfrey, the skeptical Director of Naval Intelligence eager to shut the initiative down.

Related:  The Takedown Review: Charismatic Actors Do Heavy Lifting In French Actioner

Operation Mincemeat Review 2

As expected, Operation Mincemeat 's collection of British talent is its greatest asset, but the film is too content to coast on watching them do their thing. The story (perhaps surprisingly) doesn't lend itself to a lot of action, and while the actors are game to create compelling, character-based drama, the script gives them little to play with. The crux is a pseudo-love triangle that forms between Ewen, Jean, and Charles, but despite Macfadyen's best efforts as the jealous admirer, it doesn't prove especially compelling. A subplot about a potential traitor in their midst feels equally toothless and the reason for both might be the movie's tone. Until the operation is actually executed (a section that picks up quite nicely), Madden barely entertains the idea that things could go wrong, which makes it difficult to take any of the narrative beats seriously.

Still, even if those sequences in Spain will make viewers wonder why the whole movie wasn't set there, it does enough to keep their attention. It will even tap that familiar well of emotion for the story's inevitable conclusion. This sense of being passable extends to the film's visuals and themes as well, which seem intent on capturing what people love about a good spy story. Much is made about everyone in the Intelligence community writing or wanting to write a spy novel, which rhymes nicely with the operation itself, which involves building a fictional life for the corpse from scratch. The cinematography does its part by occasionally using street lamps to create spots of light framed by fields of darkness, but the movie is far from styled like an espionage thriller. For the most part, it sports the look of the standard biopic.

Operation Mincemeat Review 3

The contrast between this and the romanticized visions of the characters feels intentional, but exactly what is intended is unclear. Take, for example, the decision to frame this as a soft-origin story for Bond, to which transparent references are made throughout. Is this designed to highlight the non-Bondness of Madden's film, and thereby celebrate the mundane, life-saving reality of MI5 ? Is it to frame plans like Operation Mincemeat as how the creatively inclined contributed to the war effort with maximum impact? Is it more critically minded, rapping a flashy blockbuster franchise on the knuckles for distorting the truth? Instead, it plays like the movie aggressively winking at the audience and the ultimate effect of treating these references like cameos pulls  Operation Mincemeat  closer to a Marvel movie than one ever imagined it could get. Maybe watching it isn't such a revolutionary act, after all.

Next:  Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness Review: Raimi Makes The MCU Genuinely Scary

Operation Mincemeat   released in limited US theaters on May 6 and is streaming on Netflix as of May 11. The film is 128 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for strong language, some sexual content, brief war violence, and smoking.

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Operation Mincemeat

  • Theatre, Musicals
  • Fortune Theatre, Covent Garden
  • 24 Feb 2024
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Operation Mincemeat, Fortune Theatre, 2023

Time Out says

The glorious spoof musical about an eccentric real-life WWII finally operation makes it to the West End

SplitLip’s delightful spoof WW2 musical has been heading inexorably for the West End for something like five years now. It’s a fringe theatre comet that’s gathered mass and momentum via seasons at the New Diorama, Southwark Playhouse and Riverside Studios, and has now made impact in Theatreland – wiping out a West End dinosaur to boot, as it displaces ‘The Woman in Black’ after over 30 years at the Fortune Theatre.

And it’s really hard to be anything but delighted for the company, which consists of David Cumming, Felix Hagan, Natasha Hodgson and Zoë Robert. All bar Hagan perform in the show, with Claire Marie Hall and Jak Malone rounding out the cast. This is very much their triumph.

And though it’s been redirected for the West End by Robert Hastie, ‘Operation Mincemeat’ is at heart the same show it always was. There are no added backing dancers or bombastic reorchestrations. It’s slicker and bigger in its way, but still feels endearingly shambolic where it counts. It’s a very larky account of the World War 2 Operation Mincemeat, a ploy from British intelligence to feed the German army disinformation via a briefcase of false war plans strapped to a corpse that they hoped to pass off as a downed British pilot (yes, there was a recent film with exactly the same name, about exactly the same thing, and yes they do make a joke about this).

The story centres on Charles Cholmondeley (Cumming), the socially inept MI5 operative who dreams up the plan, and Ewen Montague (Hodgson), the brash, hyper-confident, public-school-educated narcissist who sells the scheme to their commanding officer. Really, though, all five performers transcend individual characters, and indeed their virtuosic multitasking is the show’s hallmark.  In the utterly audacious first-half climax the story cuts between Montague and Cholmondeley out on the razz, and the solemn, dignified submarine crew tasked with deploying the body… with the same actors playing both sets of characters. The substantially gender-swapped casting isn’t – I think! – trying to make any great point, but the fact it encourages the cast to ham away frantically – especially Hodgson, who must be shredding her larynx as the gravelly voiced Montague – sets the tone nicely.

The songs are funny, detailed and entertainingly eclectic – they lean towards the vaudevillian, though there’s a modern, ‘Hamilton’-ish punch to the rhymes. They’re laser-focussed on getting us to laugh: there’s little of the saccharine baggage of the average musical, no romance, no learning life lessons, no big introspective moments. But the company also pull an absolutely devastating ballad out of the bag in ‘Dear Bill’, as Malone – in the guise of matronly secretary Hesther Leggett – dictates a ‘fake’ personal letter to be planted on the corpse, one that’s clearly suffused with intense, unexpressed personal pain. It’s a wonderful moment: slightly weird, slightly queer, achingly tender – just one song, but enough to make the whole show feel more profound.

Really, it’s a delight from start to finish. Generally it avoids taking the war too seriously, and that’s fine, although there are some moments where the essential underlying frothiness feels like it's holding the show back a bit. Its mockery of the British class system and the dominance of Old Etonians is fun, but having raised it at the very beginning (‘Born to Lead’), the show obstinately refuses to actually go anywhere with it. Ditto a totally thrown-away song about the opportunities for women the war had created (‘All the Ladies’). And while the electro-RnB banger ‘Das Übermensch’ that opens act two is mostly very fun, I’d say having Nazis gleefully singing about ‘ridding Germany of vermin’ is extremely misjudged, no matter how ironically it’s intended. 

Still, these are really minor quibbles. It doesn’t have to be relentlessly profound: SplitLip is clearly aiming for Monty Python more than Stephen Sondheim. I’ll be intrigued to see how it holds up when the cast who created it moves on – their chemistry really is off the chart – but for now I think it’s safe to say that the operation has been a total success.

Andrzej Lukowski

Dates and times

Sat, 24 Feb 2024 15:00 Fortune Theatre £19.50-£79.50. Runs 2hr 30min

Sat, 24 Feb 2024 20:00 Fortune Theatre £19.50-£79.50. Runs 2hr 30min

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Review: Operation Mincemeat and the Case for Why Small Shows Need Small Theaters

A new musical comedy about World War II doesn’t always hit the mark, but when it does, it’s pretty special.

Operation Mincemeat left to right is Claire Marie Hall Zoe Roberts, David Cumming, Natasha Hodgson and Jak Malone. Credit is Matt Crockett

The Fortune Theatre in London is fairly nondescript. Dwarfed by the massive Drury Lane looming across the street, its walls are beige, the seats are close, and its men’s lavatory is so cramped you need to duck so your head doesn’t go through the ceiling as you relieve yourself. It’s old and creaky, and despite it all, at 432 seats, it’s a jewel box for a very particular kind of show that would be lost in a venue with even 68 more chairs.

That ideal show used to be The Woman in Black , which ended there in 2023 after several decades. The newest tenant, also ideal, is Operation Mincemeat , an unapologetically goofy spoof of a real World War II deception maneuver. The show proudly boasts 64 five-star reviews. I don’t know if I would give it five — I appreciated it more than I enjoyed it — but this new musical comedy is an undeniable crowd-pleaser, and its creative decisions are mostly thoughtful. It’s hard not to marvel at a group of performers skilled enough to thoroughly commit to the silliness while also managing to punch you in the gut with emotion, and there’s something even more admirable about how fully in control, even if they haven’t quite grasped the full scope of their show’s limitations.

Written by the musical-comedy troupe SplitLip (made up of David Cumming, Felix Hagan, Natasha Hodgson, and Zoë Roberts, three of whom are also part of the cast), Operation Mincemeat (not to be confused with the Colin Firth movie about the same mission) follows a group of British intelligence officers as they hatch a plan to deceive the Germans about the Allied landing at Sicily.

Hester Leggatt Plaque Unveiling

The deceptive mission involved dressing the corpse of a Welsh vagrant in the clothes of an officer, giving him official-looking paperwork stating that the Allies were going to take Greece and Sardinia, and dropping it off the coast of neutral Spain. This allowed the Spanish to find it and provide the documents to Germany, which would then shift the location of its troops accordingly. The central figures in the mission are Charles Cholmondeley (Cumming), socially unskilled and deeply in love with newts, and Ewen Montague (Hodgson), the swaggering bureaucrat who sells the mission to their commanding officer (Roberts).

Each actor plays multiple roles — Roberts, for instance, is not only the CO, but also Lieutenant Commander Ian Fleming — a doddering soldier in a black tux (Ben Stones did the business attire costumes and surprisingly versatile set) who’s working on a novel about a suave British secret agent who likes his martinis shaken, not stirred. Jak Malone is particularly impressive as he switches back and forth between the Vincent Price-like coroner who provides the agents with their cadaver, and Hester Leggett, the fastidious head of the M15 secretarial pool who provides a fake love letter for their fictional Allied pilot to carry. Malone just about steals the show with the aching, grief-stricken “Dear Bill,” truly one of the most heartbreaking musical-theater ballads I’ve heard in a long time. Malone and Claire-Marie Hall also have a rueful number called “Useful,” about how the typists are still important even if the men get all the credit.

“Dear Bill” is the sort of song Operation Mincemeat could use more of — the goofiness of the whole thing is all well and good, but Robert Hastie’s staging is crying out for more sincerity. The second act opener, tuneless song that finds a boyband of Nazi soldiers singing an EDM number about ridding Germany of vermin, is especially misguided, even in its ironic context ( The Producers this isn’t). And at nearly two hours and 30 minutes, the show stretches long past its welcome, with a series of different buttons that could serve as a proper ending. Killing a couple of darlings to get it shorter would only benefit the text, with its irreverent and poignant lyrics, fun music, and genuinely interesting storyline.

With such good word of mouth, there’s no doubt that a New York run is hoped for, but the wrong space would totally kill the vibe. The Fortune Theatre is perfect for it, but there aren’t many Fortunes in New York City: Operation Mincemeat is a little show that can, and it does because of how small and nimble it is. Longer and bigger aren’t always better — and I hope and I hope they take that into consideration when they fly across the pond.

Operation Mincemeat left to right is David Cumming, Claire Marie Hall, Natasha Hodgson, Zoe Roberts and Jak Malone. Credit Matt Crockett

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Matthew Macfadyen's 7 Best Movies

F or many, Matthew Macfadyen will always be Tom Wambsgans in Successi on . That’s the role that earned him an important place in Hollywood, and for which he’s still earning awards. Although 2024 has just started, the actor has already won a Golden Globe for that performance, and his career is not stopping. Audiences will see him next in Deadpool 3 , where he’ll play one of the villains. Knowing how meta “the merc with the mouth” can get, it will probably be a role with some of Tom Wambsgans' flare.

Macfadyen has had a long career as an actor in both Britain and America, even if, from now on, people will remember him for the HBO show about the Roy family. He was Mr. Darcy, the Sheriff of Nottingham, and Athos, one of the three musketeers. He’s also been part of many British TV series, like Little Dorrit, Spooks, and Ripper Street. This list will cover his best appearances in film as both a lead and a supporting player. Here are his best movies, ranked.

Frost/Nixon (2008)


Release Date 2008-10-15

Director Ron Howard

Cast Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, Michael Sheen, Frank Langella, Matthew Macfadyen, Kevin Bacon

Runtime 122

Genres Drama, Documentary, History

Frost/Nixon chronicles the interviews between reporter David Frost (Michael Sheen) and ex-President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) after the Watergate scandal. The film is adapted from a 2006 play by Peter Morgan (The Crown ) that dramatized real-life interviews and what happened between them. In the movie, every interview is a battlefield, and neither Frost nor Nixon wants to lose the war.

The Yang to Frost’s Yin

The movie is one of the best about politics of the 21st century , and treats Nixon as more than a crooked ex-President. Macfadyen has a supporting role as John Brit, Frost’s producer and best friend. He’s also the man who helps Frost contact Nixon’s team to set up the interviews and helps produce them. Although it's a supporting role, the actor is able to convey the Brit’s smarts and resourcefulness, while also being a perfect yang to Frost’s yin.

Rent on Apple TV

Anna Karenina (2012)

This movie is an adaptation of the Leon Tolstoy’s novel of the same name, Anna Karenina. The story happens in 19th-century Imperial Russia when Anna (Keira Knightley) meets Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). As her relationship with her husband, Karenin (Jude Law), isn’t working, she and Vronsky start an affair. The relationship will get her in trouble with society, and not only because she’s becoming obsessed with him.

A Charismatic, Obnoxious Performance

One of Joe Wright’s best movies , he again adapts a literary classic with Keira Knightley as the lead, and reuniting her with Macfadyen after Pride & Prejudice. Here, the actor plays Oblonsky, Anna’s brother, and the character couldn’t be more different from Mr. Darcy. Oblonsky is loud, charismatic, obnoxious, and has a wandering eye. The actor is having the time of his life playing the character, and Oblonsky brings some much-needed comedic relief to this tragic story.

Operation Mincemeat (2022)

Read Our Review

Operation Mincemeat is a fictionalized version of a real-life operation crafted by the British during World War II to attack the Nazis in Sicily. Knowing the Germans had all their troops there, this operation wanted to trick them into thinking the attack would come from Greece. The movie shows how Montagu (Colin Firth), Cholmondeley (Macfadyen), and Jean (Kelly Macdonald) get the idea, and they create some fake intel they hope the Nazis will get their hands on.

A Dual Performance by Macfadyen

Macfadyen is a supporting character in this film. Cholmondeley allows him to play brave and cold; enthusiastic and jealous; smart and conniving. The actor’s version of the character is charming and funny, especially when he can’t hide how much fun he’s having creating this fake story. Another reason to see the movie is to watch the two most famous Mr. Darcys together, sharing the screen.

Stream on Netflix

The Assistant (2020)

Jane (Julia Garner) is a college graduate who starts working as the assistant of one of the most influential men in Hollywood. From her start there, she discovers some of the ugly truths of the movie world and how old men take advantage of young women through harassment and suspicious deals.

An Uncomfortable Supporting Role

This is Garner’s film through and through, and Macfadyen plays a supporting role as Wilcock, the head of HR in this production company. The actor has always been great at playing yes-men who defend and justify the actions of his bosses, and here it is no different. His big scene is when Jane shares some harassment concerns with him, and he pretty much implies he’ll do nothing about it, and if she keeps talking like that, she’ll probably get fired. In a movie full of tense moments, this scene is as uncomfortable as the film gets, proving Garner and him are great performers.

Stream on Max

Related: These Are Julia Garner’s Best Performances, Ranked

Death at a Funeral (2007)

Death at a funeral.

Release Date 2007-08-17

Director Frank Oz

Cast Daisy Donovan, Alan Tudyk, Keeley Hawes, Matthew Macfadyen, Ewen Bremner, Andy Nyman

Genres Comedy, Documentary

After his father’s death, Daniel (Macfadyen) and his family must attend the funeral. Unfortunately, everything that can go wrong goes wrong. There are drug-induced hallucinations, money problems, blackmail from some unfortunate pictures of the deceased, and an obnoxious brother. Death at a Funeral is a black comedy directed by Frank Oz, with a great British cast and Peter Dinklage stealing every scene he appears in.

Macfadyen First Comedic Role

This movie was the first time Macfadyen showed he had some comedic chops and how good he is at playing characters who are absolutely out of their depth. For most of the film, he’s the straight man, trying to have a normal funeral and write a beautiful eulogy for the deceased. Other actors might have the best lines, yet Macfadyen is able to have some of the biggest laughs just for the way he says things. Although Daniel and Tom in Succession are very different characters, both share that eagerness to please and end up being funny even when they’re just trying to survive another day.

Stream on Tubi

In My Father’s Den (2004)

Based on Maurice Gee’s novel of the same name, In My Father’s Den is the story of war photographer Paul (Macfadyen) as he goes back home after his father dies. He decides to stay for a bit to help his brother sell their dad’s home and gets work as an English teacher. At school, he establishes a friendship with a 16-year-old named Celia (Emily Barclay), the daughter of his ex-girlfriend.

A Small, Understated Story

A small, understated story that wouldn’t work without Macfadyen. This is a very internal tale about going back home, the ghosts of one’s past, and how small towns harbor many secrets and surprises. The actor is at the center of everything, giving a great performance. He’s sad, nostalgic, brave, smart, and hopeful. Once Celia disappears, and the story’s tone changes to be more claustrophobic, he proves why he was a young actor to watch for.

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

The latest movie adaptation of the Jane Austen novel Pride & Prejudice is the best film Matthew MacFadyen has ever been part of. He plays Mr. Darcy, and his love story with Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) is legendary, being the most famous enemies-to-lovers story ever told.

A Perfectly Imperfect Mr. Darcy

This film is one of the best Jane Austen adaptations ever made , and it is in large part thanks to MacFadyen’s performance and his chemistry with Knightley. The actor’s version of Mr. Darcy is much more insecure, doubtful, and internal, even mumbling more than talking every time he’s in front of Elizabeth. When he’s finally able to speak, he proves to her that he’s a sweet, warm man with a moral compass, making sparks fly between them. This movie was MacFadyen’s breakout role, after which he led many other period stories, especially on British television.

Matthew Macfadyen's 7 Best Movies


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