Review: Operation Mincemeat is a fascinating fact-based World War II story

Operation Mincemeat (M, 127 minutes)

3 stars

Former American president Donald Trump made "fake news" a startlingly effective part of his daily disinformation campaign with statements like, "Nobody has done more for Christianity, nobody has done more for religion of all types, than me."

John Madden's fascinating tale Operation Mincemeat is in this same tradition, of leadership strategically employing disinformation for its own ends.

Colin Firth, centre, in Operation Mincemeat. Picture: Transmission Films

Colin Firth, centre, in Operation Mincemeat. Picture: Transmission Films

In this case, during World War II the British planted disinformation that fooled the German forces into throwing its protective weight at the coasts of Greece and Sardinia when in fact the Allies were invading Sicily.

Being a hard-core James Bond fan, I was already aware of this, as one of its real-life players was the young Ian Fleming who would later gain fame for his spy novels.

All that subterfuge and brutality came from somewhere, much of it from Fleming's experience in the British Foreign Office and his wartime experiences.

In the mahogany-covered walls where the British are controlling war operations, Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) is struggling to hold his personal life together while his war work gets most of his focus. Working around him are Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen), Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald) and Admiral Godfrey (Jason Isaacs).

This is the team that are plotting Operation Mincemeat, a ruse to plant papers on the body of an impostor British military officer to be found by German authorities. The papers will imply the British will invade Greece.

It works surprisingly well, the body being found by Spanish authorities who report the contents of its fake papers to Ze Germans. That's not a spoiler. We've been watching films about World War II for more than 70 years now and I'm pretty sure everyone knows the outcome.

Masters of Sex writer Michelle Ashford, working from Ben Macintyre's non-fiction book) has fashioned a screenplay fleshing out complex concepts of truth and its bending, of personal histories from each of the characters coalescing together into this fictional body's backstory.

Replete with witty dialogue and spy thrills, it does strike a familiar note to audiences familiar with the tropes of a good James Bond film, and that's because it all started here.

A young Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn) narrates the film - he is the personal assistant to Isaacs' Admiral Godfrey and had his own part to play in the idea.

Director John Madden enjoys playing with language, as he did so well in Shakespeare in Love, and the ripostes bounce off his leading characters. But wordiness aside, the film is also peppered with fun buffoonery, including Firth doing some great physical comedy. There are good stakes and tension at play, even if we all, once again, know how it all ends.

I've been a fan of Macdonald's since Trainspotting and she is always brilliant in everything, as she is here, and the other performances in the film are solid.

Operation Mincemeat was the Russian troll farm of its day, a successful play in the propagandist tactics book still being employed today in our own social media feeds, and so this film is an interesting study not just for history buffs, but also communications and public relations students.

This story Fascinating story of disinformation first appeared on The Canberra Times.