How a WWII British Op Fooled Hitler and Ensured a Successful Invasion of Sicily

Colin Firth Matthew Macfadyen Operation Mincemeat
Colin Firth as Ewen Montagu and Matthew Macfadyen as Charles Cholmondeley in "Operation Mincemeat." (Photo: Giles Keyte/See-Saw)

"Operation Mincemeat," now streaming on Netflix, is an excellent movie about the British intelligence operation that convinced Germany that the Allies planned to invade Greece instead of Sicily in the summer of 1943. Hitler took the bait, moved troops to defend Greece and the Allies faced little resistance when they invaded.

British Navy Lt. Cmdr. Ewen Montagu and Flight Lt. Charles Cholmondeley came up with an outrageous plan to locate a dead body, create a false backstory and papers that showed him to be a spy and float the body to the coast of Spain. There, corrupt local officials would share a top-secret document with Nazi spies, a paper that would "prove" that the Allies were gearing up for a Greek invasion.

The plan faced opposition from others in the Navy, but Prime Minister Winston Churchill approved the idea and deceased Welshman Glyndwr Michael, posed as Maj. William Martin, became one of Britain's most unlikely war heroes.

"Operation: Mincemeat" was likely planned as one of those prestige pictures set for release in December to qualify for the Academy Awards. Directed by Oscar-nominated John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love") and starring Oscar winner Colin Firth ("The King's Speech") as Montagu and Emmy nominee Matthew Macfadyen ("Succession") as Cholmondeley, the movie unfolds with a reserve that lets the actors show their craft and never overdoes it with the action.

Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy from the "Harry Potter" movies) plays Adm. John Godfrey, the plan's biggest opponent and someone looking to undermine Montagu and Cholmondeley with Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Simon Russell Beale, "The Death of Stalin"). Johnny Flynn ("The Outfit") plays Godfrey's assistant, Ian Fleming, the young officer who will grow up to invent the James Bond character in novels inspired by his intelligence service during the war.

Montagu has some low-grade romance with Jean Leslie, played by Emmy winner Kelly Macdonald ("Boardwalk Empire"), but everyone stays on the right side of propriety. Fans of British television will be pleased to see Penelope Wilton (Isobel Crawley, who became Lady Merton, on "Downton Abbey"), Mark Gatiss (Mycroft Holmes on "Sherlock") and Alex Jennings (Duke of Windsor on "The Crown") in supporting roles.

Once you get past the gruesome idea of recycling a dead and decaying body for a secret mission, there's not much to upset the audience. We all know who won the war, so the outcome of the mission is never really in doubt, even as it repeatedly encounters snags that should have caused it to collapse.

Details of the mission remained secret throughout the war, and the public got a heavily edited version of the story from Montagu's 1953 book, "The Man Who Never Was." It took author Ben Macintyre to piece together the entire story in his 2010 book "Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory," which filled in the missing details and earned Glyndwr Michael the recognition he deserved.

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