This body of which you are the hero
The “secret” stories of the Second World War, we are beginning to know them. But Operation Mincemeat (or “minced meat”) has something quite special, in the sense that it is totally different from traditional military strategies. In 1943, while 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, on pain of risking a massacre.
This is how Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) and Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew MacFadyen) get it into their heads, despite the reservations of British intelligence, to put in place an ultimate counterintelligence tactic: grabbing a corpse and inventing a life as a secret agent for it. The goal? That the Nazis intercept false documents hidden on him, claiming that the Allies aim to attack Sardinia and the Balkans.
Since then, Cunning plays above all on its improbable true story dimension, which required complex logistics to create from scratch a coherent life for this one-of-a-kind lure. The slight concern is the presence in the production of John Madden. On the one hand, we can understand the logic of entrusting the filmmaker behind Shakespeare In Love a story about the imaginary, and the way in which the inspiration of reality irrigates fiction, and vice versa. On the other, the guy has always asserted himself as a paragon of academicismunable to give nuances to the strong concepts of his works through staging.
The (new) identity of John Doe
Not surprisingly, Cunning thus meets the expectations (and fears) that we could have had. Its manufacture never has any particular brilliance, but it is never indigent for all that, a bit like a luxury BBC TV movie. Colin Firth, always very comfortable in the role of the somewhat stuck-up but sensitive intellectual, hits the mark in each scene without giving the impression of making too much of an effort.
It is perhaps his performance that best sums up the approach of the feature film, which follows paths that have already been mapped out. We could be disappointed in view of the incredible aspect of the operation, or be satisfied with the holding of its reconstitution at a rather sustained pace. See the glass half empty or half fullsuch is the leveling down implied by Cunningespecially when you compare his all-purpose approach to the overwhelming modesty ofImitation Gameor the flamboyant formalism of dark hours.
Colin Firth at the control table
Back to Neverland
But in a way, the proposal has everything of the perfect return of the Sunday night movie, breathy and skillful enough to last (no wonder that Warner sold the film to Netflix internationally). If Madden loses us somewhat in the classicism of his second part (the execution of the plan), he has for him the malice of Michelle Ashford’s screenplaywhich turns setting up the operation into a real giant role-playing game.
A little like a theater workshop with Maou stakes, this first half zigzags with vivacity in the midst of the contingencies of this creative exercise. Between the issues related to the preservation of the corpse and the credible writing of a rich past, the feature film builds a saving subtext on the power of the imagination and its impact on reality. There, John Madden is clearly the most comfortable, especially when Montagu and Cholmondeley transpose their own amorous frustrations into the letters of this character, who becomes a mosaic of their personalities.
Make Britain Great Again
While the horror of war remains a paralyzing offscreen, Cunning enter a forbidden space, behind the scenes of a fool’s game whose magic we are deliberately broken, to show us how the sausage is made. And as often, the little hands behind this miracle have only this simulacrum to exist, even though their sacrifice has saved the world.
Faced with their own loneliness, they no longer have any other choice but to cling to fiction, to this world that they themselves have shaped in a context of the annihilation of creativity. Too bad the feature film only sees it as a way of glorifying this inventiveness for the war effort, rather than putting this act in perspective of a global need for escape, for resistance to the horror of the world. through stories that we continue to pass on to each other.