How did a disguised dead body and a few fake documents lead to the liberation of Sicily in the Second World War? Operation Mincemeat tells the true story of a deception operation executed by the British military in 1943. To successfully take control of Sicily from the Axis powers, British intelligence officers Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) and Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen) came up with a plan to trick German forces into moving away from the Italian island. Their plan, codenamed Operation Mincemeat, was to dress a corpse as an officer of the Royal Marines and plant documents on the body suggesting the Allies planned to invade Greece and Sardinia. The body would then be retrieved by German intelligence, and if everything went according to plan, they would believe they had found a key piece of information about their enemies’ plans.
Though the plan sounded crazy, it worked. German reinforcements were moved to Greece and Sardinia to defend against a made-up invasion, and the British were able to enter Sicily with little resistance. Operation Mincemeat is directed by John Madden. His previous work as a director includes Shakespeare in Love and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The film is based on the book British Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre and adapted for the screen by Michelle Ashford. Operation Mincemeat is set to be released on Netflix on May 11. Here’s everything you need to know about the cast of characters in this thrilling war drama.
Colin Firth as Ewen Montagu
Colin Firth stars as Ewen Montagu, a Commanding Officer in the Naval Intelligence Division who helped come up with the idea for Operation Mincemeat. Before his involvement in WWII, Montagu served as a machine gun instructor in the First World War and studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, and Harvard University. After his work on Operation Mincemeat, he wrote a book about his experience titled The Man Who Never Was. Montagu was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his work on the operation.
Colin Firth is an Academy Award-winning actor with a career spanning decades. His breakout role was in the 1995 TV mini-series Pride and Prejudice in which he starred as Mr. Darcy. In 1998, he appeared in Operation Mincemeat director John Madden’s film Shakespeare in Love as Lord Wessex. Operation Mincemeat isn’t the first war film Firth has starred in, as he played General Erinmore in the WWI movie 1917. Firth will lead HBO’s new true-crime series The Staircase as Michael Peterson, a man accused of murdering his wife after she is found dead in their home.
Matthew Macfadyen as Charles Cholmondeley
Flight Lieutenant Charles Cholmondeley, the other mastermind behind Operation Mincemeat, is played by Matthew MacFayden. Cholmondeley originally proposed an idea to drop a dead man attached to a parachute into France with a radio intended for the Germans to find which could then be used to feed them misinformation. Though this initial plan wasn’t used, it did inspire what ultimately became Operation Mincemeat. He was later made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his involvement.
MacFayden and his Operation Mincemeat co-star Colin Firth have both portrayed the Jane Austen character Mr. Darcy, with Macfayden playing the brooding love interest of Elizabeth Bennet in Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice. He currently appears in the hit HBO series Succession as Tom Wambsgans, a role which earned MacFayden a SAG award and an Emmy nomination. He is set to star as the titular character in Stonehousean ITV series about a British politician who faked his own death.
Kelly Macdonald plays Jean Leslie, an MI5 secretary whose photograph was crucial to the success of the operation. To make their ruse believable, the team behind Operation Mincemeat had to make their fake dead officer appear to be a person with a rich life and history. They gave him the name Captain William Martin and crafted a fake fiance for him named Pam. They wanted to include a picture of “Pam” on the body to add to the idea that this was a real soldier, someone who carried pictures and love letters into battle. The picture they used was one of Jean Leslie, and it helped make “Captain Martin” appear real enough for the Germans to believe the deception.
Macdonald burst onto the acting scene when she starred alongside Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting. A few years later, she won an Emmy Award for her role in the TV film The Girl in the Café. Since then, she has starred in Boardwalk Empire, No Country for Old Menand Black Mirror. She became an official Disney Princess when she lent her voice to the role of Merida in Pixar’s Brave. Later this year, Macdonald will star in the Netflix thriller I Came By with Hugh Bonneville and George MacKay.
Another woman who helped bring Pam to life was Hester Leggett played by Penelope Wilton. Legget was the leader of the secretarial unit where Jean Leslie worked. Leggett was a fierce woman strongly dedicated to her work. When the team needed fake love letters to plant on Captain Martin, the job of writing them fell to Legget. The official report on the operation said Legget’s work on the letters “achieved the thrill and pathos of a war engagement with great success.”
Wilton has had a long career starring on both the stage and screen. She played Isobel Crawley in the historical drama series Downton Abbeya role which she reprised in the 2019 Downton Abbey movie and its sequel, Downton Abbey: A New Era. She also recurred on Doctor Who as Harriet Jones. She has previously worked with director John Madden on both Marigold Hotel films. She is set to play Maureen in the upcoming adaptation of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.
Jason Isaacs plays Rear Admiral John Godfrey, Britain’s director of naval intelligence during WWII. In 1939, Godfrey crafted a document titled the Trout Memo. In the memo, Godfrey compared the wartime deception of enemies to fly-fishing. The 28th suggestion in the memo detailed an idea to plant misleading papers on a dead body and leave it for the enemy to find. This suggestion went on to inspire Operation Mincemeat several years later.
Harry Potter fans will recognize Isaacs as the conniving and vicious Lucius Malfoy. In addition to his appearances throughout the Harry Potter franchise, Isaacs has starred in many films including The Patriot, Furyand Peter Pan. He voiced Admiral Zhao in Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korraand he played the Grand Inquisitor in Star Wars Rebels. Later in 2022, Isaacs will play Al Bogatz in Spinning Golda biopic about the co-founder of Casablanca Records, Neil Bogart.
The creator of James BondIan Fleming, is portrayed by Johnny Flynn. Before he became a best-selling spy novelist, Fleming served in WWII as John Godfrey’s assistant. In his work as Godfrey’s assistant, Fleming served as a liaison to several wartime administrations including the Secret Intelligence Service and the Prime Minister’s staff. Though the Trout Memo was published under Godfrey’s name, some historians argue that it closely resembled the writings of Fleming. He would later use his experience to inform his James Bond novels, and the character of Bond’s boss ‘M’ was inspired by Godfrey.
Flynn is an actor and songwriter known for his portrayal of Mr. Knightley in the 2020 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. He also starred as David Bowie in Stardusta film about the rockstar’s trip to America that influenced the creation of his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust. Flynn recently appeared in the mobster drama The Outfit and the heist musical The Score. He is set to star in the upcoming series Ripley alongside Andrew Scott and Dakota Fanning.
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