After Imitation Game and Dark Hours, British cinema is back to delve into the backstage of the Second World War. With Operation Mincemeat, Shakespeare in Love director John Madden tells the story of one of the greatest counter-espionage operations in history, with Colin Firth in the lead role. But isn't that a bit too obvious?
The 'secret' stories of the Second World War are becoming familiar. But Operation Mincemeat is quite unique in that it differs completely from traditional military strategies. In 1943, when the Allies hoped to deploy their troops in occupied Europe via Sicily, Hitler had to be convinced not to leave the majority of his units there or risk a massacre.
So Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) and Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew MacFadyen) set out, despite the reservations of British intelligence, to implement the ultimate counter-espionage tactic: grabbing a corpse and inventing a life as a secret agent. The objective? For the Nazis to intercept false documents hidden on him, claiming that the Allies are planning to attack Sardinia and the Balkans.
From then on, Operation Mincemeat plays above all on its dimension of improbable true story, which required complex logistics to create from scratch a coherent life for this unique decoy. Not surprisingly, Operation Mincemeat lives up to any expectations (and fears) one might have had. It is never particularly brilliantly made, but it is never stodgy. Colin Firth, always very comfortable in the role of the slightly uptight but sensitive intellectual, hits the nail on the head in every scene without giving the impression of trying too hard.
It is perhaps his performance that best sums up the film's approach, which follows a well-trodden path. One could be disappointed by the rocky aspect of the operation or be satisfied with the holding of its reconstitution at a rather sustained rhythm. To see the glass as half empty or half full is the levelling down of Operation Mincemeat, especially when one compares its boilerplate approach to the shocking modesty of Imitation Game, or the flamboyant formalism of Dark Hours.
If the irony of using a dead man to save lives gives Operation Mincemeat all its flavor, we will however deplore the addition of this flowery plot which weighs down the subject and perpetuates the stereotypes of the genre, as well as the excessively loose editing which allows the rhythm to slow down. Despite these reservations, the film is convincing because of its realism and the solidity of its actors' performance (and incidentally because of Thomas Newman's music). It also lifts the veil (once again) on the work carried out in the shadows by a handful of men (the women remain on the periphery) whose ingenuity and nerve made it possible to mount one of the most risky and convoluted operations of the last war. We will not sulk in front of an intelligent and instructive show.