Monday, July 25, 2022

Random Notes on Actors

Matthew Mcfadyen and Colin Firth in Operation Mincemeat.

For anyone who follows British actors – and that includes just about everybody I know who’s turned on by actors these days – Operation Mincemeat (on Netflix) is a banquet. It features Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton and Jason Isaacs, with Alex Jennings, Hattie Morahan, Mark Gatiss and Johnny Flynn (from The Dig) in supporting roles and Simon Russell Beale, in a cameo, the latest first-rank actor to in recent years to play Winston Churchill. Across the board, the performances are superlative. The movie, beautifully directed by John Madden from an ingenious, immensely satisfying script by Michelle Alford (adapting book by Ben Macintyre), is a true-life World War II spy story and romantic melodrama. In 1943, British Intelligence Fleet Commander Charles Cholmondeley (Macfadyen, with a bushy mustache) whips up a scheme to mislead the Germans into thinking that the Allies are directing their attention to Greece while in truth they’re focusing on Sicily. Cholmondeley’s plan is to dress up a corpse as an English agent, plant phony documents on him, and have him wash up in Spain, in the Gulf of Cadiz, and then make sure that Allied moles get news of his discovery to Hitler’s ears. Working with Commander Ewen Montagu (Firth) and Hester Leggett (Wilton), head of the Admiralty’s secretarial unit, he appropriates a suicide named Glyndwr Michael for the dead man, renames him Major William Martin, and manufactures a biography for him that includes a romantic backstory. Jean Leslie (Macdonald), a widow working under Hester, gets involved when she offers her own photo to stand in for the sweetheart photo in Martin’s wallet. (Then they throw in a love letter.) Isaacs plays Admiral John Godfrey, their consistently wrongheaded boss, who is skeptical about the operation from the get-go and suspicious of Montagu because he’s convinced his left-leaning brother Ivor (Gatiss) is a Soviet spy. (The fact that the Russians are fighting on the same side as the Allies hasn’t calmed him down.)