Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) is drafted into British intelligence to help devise a daring plan to trick the Nazis into believing a different location is being targeted for invasion. While navigating the murky world of spycraft, Montagu is caught in a love triangle between Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald) and his colleague and friend, Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen) that could jeopardise the mission...
There's a moment towards the start of 'Operation Mincemeat', in which the wider committee working in the early stages of the grand scheme to outfox the Nazis, are coming up with names for the whole endeavour. Matthew Macfadyen's moustachioed and bespectacled RAF officer initially devises the title 'Operation Trojan Horse', which Jason Isaacs' granite-jawed Naval officer dismisses with a baleful glare as being far too obvious. Colin Firth's good-natured officer, however, sees the merit in the idea and the name is changed to the one we now know. That kind of encapsulates how you could approach 'Operation Mincemeat'. Depending on your mileage, you can either turn your nose up at it as yet another World War II drama that's been done several times before, or you can see it for the sum of parts and enjoy it on its own terms.
John Madden's work in the past decade or so has bounced between directing in two distinctive genres - thrillers like Mossad-lionising 'The Debt' and 'Miss Sloane', and chaste senior dramas like 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' and its sequel. 'Operation Mincemeat' feels like it's caught between these two urges, but only just satisfies both of them. It never has the sweaty, panicked feeling of a spy thriller, because everyone seems so strait-laced and proper, and never gets at the carnal warfare deployed in spycraft, because again everyone seems so strait-laced and proper. Matthew Macfadyen even looks like Harry Enfield's Mr. Greyson character from those piss-takes of educational films of the '30s.
The cast in 'Operation Mincemeat' really is what gives the movie its heft, as there's precious little of it in the setting of the story. Indeed, you get the sense that Michelle Ashford's script was severely watered down to make it into a PG-13 effort and something more palatable for general audiences. There's flashes here and there of the betrayals, both sexual and otherwise, but it never quite rises above the surface and leaves things quite chaste. The relationship that develops between Colin Firth and Kelly Macdonald feels stuck somewhere between gentle comradeship and quiet - too quiet, really - yearning, while Matthew Macfadyen's pining for Kelly Macdonald barely registers. In between all of this, you have a strong supporting cast made up of Jason Isaacs, Johnny Flynn, Penelope Wilton, Mark Gatiss, and Simon Russell Beale doing the work of piecing the story together.
As old-school and conventional as it is, 'Operation Mincemeat' does have its charms, led by an impressively committed performance by all concerned. Macfadyen, in particular, excels in the role of Cholmondeley, neatly balancing his performance between harmlessly comedic and brooding while deftly holding his own against Colin Firth. Kelly Macdonald's steely presence is convincing and compelling, while Jason Isaacs playing a withering upper-crust type is always a delight to behold. Despite its limitations and lack of courage in the script department, 'Operation Mincemeat' is nevertheless well-crafted for what it is.