A new film adaptation of one of the most extraordinary intelligence operations of the Second World War is set to hit cinemas later this spring.
Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen star in Operation Mincemeat, a retelling of the 1943 Allied plan to keep the invasion of Sicily a secret through an elaborate deception.
Firth plays Ewen Montagu, a British Naval Intelligence officer paired with Charles Cholmondeley (Macfadyen), a member of the top-secret Twenty Committee, to carry out the plan.
Based on an earlier idea devised partially by James Bond creator Ian Fleming, Operation Mincemeat involved depositing a dead body off the coast of Spain, along with a briefcase containing fake plans about an Allied landing in Greece and Sardinia.
With the intention that the information would be picked up by Axis intelligence, the deception would help keep the intended Allied target of Sicily a secret.
Dressed in a Royal Marine uniform and given the fictional name of Major William Martin, the body was dropped off the Spanish coast on 30 April 1943 by HMS Seraph.
This was done by the Andalusian coast of Spain, near the town of Huelva, as it was known that a highly active German agent, Adolf Clauss, was based there.
Although elements of the plan did not work out as the British intended – Clauss never saw the documents, which were later returned to the British – the Germans were taken in by the deception. In response, Hitler diverted three Panzer Divisions to Greece and sent Field Marshal Erwin Rommel there to defend the country.
The invasion of Sicily, which occurred two weeks later, took just 39 days, and contributed to the fall of Hitler’s Italian ally, Benito Mussolini. A later report sent to Churchill stated that Mincemeat had been ‘swallowed rod, line, and sinker’.
The affair was later written up by Montagu in a bestselling book, The Man Who Never Was, adapted into a 1956 film of the same name starring Clifton Webb and Gloria Grahame.
The film omitted some elements of the operation. For instance, it did not reveal the true story of how the body had been acquired.
It in fact had belonged to an impoverished and illiterate Welshman who had committed suicide and had no known family.
The full story of the operation has been revealed in recent times, most notably in Ben Macintyre’s 2010 book, on which this new film is based.
Directed by John Madden, renowned for his work on Shakespeare in Love (1998), the film’s screenplay was written by Michelle Ashford, who also worked on The Pacific miniseries.
Other cast members include Jason Isaacs, Penelope Wilton, and Kelly Macdonald, with Simon Russell Beale as Winston Churchill.
The film is due to be released in UK cinemas in April and on Netflix at a later date. You can read our review of it in a forthcoming issue of MHM.