What to Watch Verdict
Operation Mincemeat shows that even in our darkest times the strength of humanity will always win out by celebrating the heroes of war.
Feels tangible and real
Strong ensemble cast
Showcases the seen and unseen heroes of the war
The tone is nothing we haven't seen before
Could have benefited from a lighter touch in places
So many of the heroics that took place during World War Two have sadly been lost to history, but thankfully Operation Mincemeat isn't one of them.
It's early 1943, the Allies are set to launch an assault on Europe but are aware that German firepower is strong and, without a proper plan, they'd be walking into a potential massacre.
As ideas for a ruse to trick Hitler and his armies are gathering momentum, a separate one is added to the table that will allow them to not only catch the enemy off guard but also, if the deception sticks, could give them an unprecedented advantage in the war. The proposal is to con the Nazis into believing that the Allies intend to attack Greece, rather than their actual target, Sicily.
The ruse — led by Ewan Montagu (Colin Firth), Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew MacFadyen) and their team — is to fabricate the life of a Naval officer who, when hopefully found dead off the shores of Spain, will be carrying “secure” documents that, if they got out, would give the Germans the upper hand. Or, at least, so they'll believe…
If the story seems a little far-fetched — like something torn from the pages of a spy novel — with our hero protagonist charging towards victory over the bad guys using his wit, intelligence and know-how to claim the spoils, well, you'd sort of be right. The story of Operation Mincemeat has links to one Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond.
In his formative years, Fleming was part of the Naval Intelligence Division and was there when Mincemeat was in its infancy, as well as Operation Goldeneye. Sounds familiar, too. Fleming took inspiration from those around him who pulled off one of the most daring pieces of espionage and trickery ever known. It's likely that even he would've been proud of the work that director John Madden and co put on screen here — showcasing the seen and unseen heroes of the war with delicacy.
Shot on real locations in and around London, there's an immediate tangibility and realism to the film, placing you almost directly into the world as it was then and that of the officers who found their calling in pulling off such a feat of precision and execution.
Madden, no stranger to the dramatics of this nature, is suitably at home here and, while he does fuse the film with said tension and pathos, it perhaps could have merited a lighter, dare we say it more "British" touch in amongst all of those more strained moments. Still, it's impossible to say Mincemeat is a stuffy bore and there's plenty on offer here to please the masses, not least with Firth, MacFadyen, Kelly Macdonald, and Penelope Wilton bringing it all together with a quartet of strong turns with the latter in particular showcasing all of her class and wisdom.
With the world collapsing again and the uncertainty around what comes next still being pondered over endlessly, Operation Mincemeat shows that even in our darkest times the strength of humanity will always win out and while the tone and look of the film are nothing new, there are a plethora of untapped notions here that make it well worth seeking out, not least for an invaluable history lesson.
Operation Mincemeat is in cinemas from 15 April 2022 in the UK. And will come to Netflix in the US on May 11.
Scott is a freelance film and TV Critic, who has been writing since 2012 for a variety of different outlets, including What To Watch, Digital Spy, Fandom, Yahoo UK and more.
He has primarily worked for HeyUGuys since 2016 and for them, he has been their red carpet interviewer, as well as part of the interview team attending film junkets, both in-person and over Zoom. He is also the reviews editor at The People's Movies.