‘Operation Mincemeat’ Review: A Bland Hash

Hundreds of thousands of British soldiers died fighting in World War II. “Operation Mincemeat,” directed by John Madden, tells the real-life story of one man drafted into the war effort after death — or rather, it tells the story of the men who conscripted him. In this bizarrely celebratory tale, the titular “mincemeat” is a troubling figure, weighing heavy on the conscience as the men who’ve enlisted him engage in petty infighting.

Colin Firth plays Ewen Montagu, a former barrister who teams up with Charles Cholmondeley, played by Matthew Macfadyen, after hearing his plan to deceive Hitler by using forged papers attached to a corpse. They’re aided by two girls Friday: Hester, Montagu’s steadfast “spinster” secretary played by Penelope Wilton, and Jean, a younger typist played by Kelly Macdonald.

They end up pilfering the corpse of Glyndwr Michael, a homeless Welshman who died from ingesting rat poison. There are conflicting accounts as to whether Montagu and Cholmondeley informed Michael’s family before repurposing his body. Michelle Ashford’s screenplay, based on the book of the same name by Ben Macintyre, has an unexpected relative nearly sabotage their plans before, oddly, disappearing from the script. This seems the filmmakers’ main attempt at injecting some conscience into their protagonists — the scene ends with Montagu declaring, “May God forgive us all.”

But “Operation Mincemeat” is overall light on remorse and far more interested in intrigue, both political and romantic. As the leading men spar over Jean (yawn) and their bond is further threatened by a superior officer with Red Scare accusations, we’re expected to lose ourselves in their human squabbles. Alas, the more provocative Michael — and all the existential and ethical issues he represents — lingers in the periphery.

Operation Mincemeat
Rated PG-13 for light sexuality and a gnarly autopsy. Running time: 2 hours 8 minutes. Watch on Netflix.