Ground Meat Operation, 2022.
Directed by John Madden.
With Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton, Johnny Flynn, Jason Isaacs, Mark Gatiss, Hattie Morahan, Paul Ritter, Simon Russell Beale, Lorne MacFadyen, Markus von Lingen, Ruby Bentall, Alex Jennings, Ellie Haddington, Nicholas Rowe , Will Keen, Mark Bonnar, James Fleet, Alexander Beyer, Nico Birnbaum, Pep Tosar, Alba Brunet, Pedro Casablanc, Óscar Zafra, Javier Godino, Jonjo O’Neill, Amy Marston, Gabrielle Creevy, Simon Rouse, Paul Lancaster, Michael Bott , Charlotte Hamblin and Rufus Wright.
During World War II, two intelligence officers use a dead body and false papers to outwit German troops.
Naval intelligence officer and budding novelist Ian Fleming (the British writer who gave us James Bond) narrates and has a supporting role (played by Johnny Flynn) in Ground Meat Operation. And while there’s no shortage of WWII-centric espionage and espionage tales, such a presence ruminating on the dark side of war (shadow movements, double agents, seduction, deception, etc.) injects Director John Madden’s depiction of these real events (working from a terrific screenplay by Michelle Ashford adapted from Ben Macintyre’s book) with growing tension suggesting that this too-mad-to-work undercover mission he’s a part of is directly partly responsible for the birth of 007 It’s not something that’s spelled out (even the end credits don’t have a footnote detailing its eventual worldwide celebrated success), and it’s not not even the first WWII story to feature Ian Fleming, but it’s all worked from a proper angle to elevate the uncertainty and poetic drama without becoming an entertaining sideshow.
Next to Ian Fleming are British intelligence agents Ewen Montagu and Charles Cholmondeley (Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen, notable for selling the madness, risk, danger and urgency of what is entrusted to them and what to what they’re up against and how fast it could all go south), who offered Admiral John Godfrey (screen commander Jason Isaacs) to divert German troops from Sicily (which they plan to d attack) towards Greece so that they could effectively ambush and mark a turning point for both European and Allied forces. This plan involves parachuting a corpse off the coast of Spain and planting a false identity and documents indicating an attack in Greece, serving as a false direction. No one is really confident of its success, but Simon Russell Beale’s Winston Churchill gave the green light, hoping for the best.
The first, much more creative and engaging, half of the Ground Meat Operation sees the two intelligence officers do everything from finding a suitable body (settling on suicidal victim Glyndwr Michael) who would be credited as a war hero) to crafting an elaborate backstory for their chosen death. It involves photographs, letters, and a fully fleshed out life that unsuspecting Nazi officers will buy into, later assuming the attack on Greece must be legitimate. However, it also means creating a love interest at home and another fake identity, which becomes a fake identity for secretary Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald), known as Pam.
Not only do these elements slip right into Ian Fleming’s framing device and storytelling, it allows for some deconstruction of military soldiers and the call of duty as the trio weaves together a believable fictional character. There’s also an aspect of Ewen’s complicated family life, which only gets more complicated as he and Jean fall in love with each other, with pieces of their creation coming across as real feelings. and thoughts for each other. Ewen also doesn’t raise his family; his knack for deception can also bleed into his personal life. However, he is not necessarily a bad or manipulative person, but somewhat confused and stressed during the whole ordeal.
Once it’s time to perform Operation Mincemeat, the proceedings shift to something more conventional, but the filmmakers deserve a lot of kudos for maintaining intrigue and suspense in a number of ways. Intelligence officers must ensure that a high-ranking Nazi officer opened the letter detailing the deception. There is a secret rebellion against Adolf Hitler coming to light which could be reality or nonsensical rumors, and the Admiral (who hasn’t had much faith in the mission from the start) is just following along because he can use the situation to his advantage by investigating whether or not Ewen’s brother (Mark Gatiss) is a Russian spy. Jean also befriends an American soldier who may not have a lot of screen time, but who thoughtfully factors in to the story in other ways given Lorne MacFadyen’s dual role. (who also plays the corpse of Glyndwr Michael).
Other than a glimpse of the battle during the climax, nothing is inspiring about Ground Meat Operation craftsmanship-wise, though there is a catchy and moving score by Thomas Newman. Beyond that and the solid set here is all the movie needs. The concept takes this one far, especially since the movie is mostly about solving problems and what could go wrong. The human drama at play is relatively routine, but the operation is poignant.
Scintillating Myth Rating – Movie: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the editor of Flickering Myth Reviews. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]