The Weapon of Deception – Operation Mincemeat, John Madden: “The secret of a good story? The surprise”

The interview with John Madden, who here directs a spy story inspired by a true story: the insane operation that misled Hitler’s troops during the Second World War and changed the destiny of Europe forever.

The Weapon of Deception – Operation Mincemeat: Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen in a scene from the film

The first fake news in history and the largest and most sensational misdirection operation: it is the one that gives the title to the film The Weapon of Deception – Operation Mincemeat, and that forever changed the fate of the Second World War. A story set up down to the smallest detail by a group of British secret agents to mislead the Nazis and allow the allied troops to land in Sicily while limiting losses as much as possible. The plan was to make the German armies believe that the reconquest of occupied Europe would begin from the Greek coasts and not from the Sicilian ones. To do this they used a corpse, made him fall into the waters off the Spanish coast in military uniform and with a briefcase containing false documents on the landing. The task of orchestrating it all fell to two men Ewen Montagu and Charles Cholmondeley, played in the film by Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen. To direct is John Madden, best known as the director of Shakespeare in Love, who thus tells us about the genesis of a work that is both comedy and espionage, as well as a reflection on the power of the manipulation of reality and on the imagination as a creative act. And he reveals to us: “The secret of a good story? Never guess or know its ending before you start telling it. I like movies that surprise, and this story is obviously full of surprises, not only for the people who are writing it, but for the people who are writing it as well. what happens when they are no longer in control. Surprise is an extraordinary weapon, even if being surprised in life is not always pleasant, it is instead pleasant in a film. Overturning the viewer’s expectations is a way to hook and connect them. more to the story. Hitchcock has always been torn between suspense and surprise and this film also works on both. I also like stories where the audience is unable to make a decision right away.“.

From an idea of ​​Ian Fleming: the origins of the story

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The Weapon of Deception – Operation Mincemeat: Johnny Flynn during a scene from the film

Not everyone knows that Ian Fleming, who later became the author of the James Bond novels, suggested the story; he had read it in a Basil Thompson novel and it was he who proposed it to Admiral John Godfrey. “From a cinematic point of view it was a great gift. At that point in his life he had not yet started writing the stories we all know today, instead he was writing a weird idea about how to trick the enemy into this kind of trap. we talk about in the film. – says John Madden – He was one of the many writers who participated in the operation, almost all the people belonging to the Naval Intelligence Committee of Winds were and this was one of the most extraordinary aspects of this story. They live halfway in a world of fiction, a world of speculation, of unexpected twists and turns. It is the idea that lies at the heart of this disinformation strategy and at that moment Ian Fleming was right at the center of the story “.
The perfect mix of different tones attracted the director and screenwriter Michelle Ashford: “It’s an emotional story, it’s a comedy, a thriller, there’s espionage and it ends in a different place from where it begins, which in my opinion is the fundamental requirement of the cinematic story”.

The weapon of deception – Operation Mincemeat, the review: War, fake news and fiction

The references to the present

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The Weapon of Deception – Operation Mincemeat: Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald in a scene from the film

But despite the inevitable juxtapositions, Madden is keen to point out that The Weapon of Deception – Operation Mincemeat is in no way connected to the current circumstances of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. “We made it two years ago when the situation was completely different. At the same time, however, in the middle of the film there is a line where Winston Churchill says: ‘Russia will be the war of tomorrow.’ present and past, because there is a kind of madness in the war that is constant. But the last thing I want to do is talk about or promote this film in the wake of the horrible conflict going on in Europe, which is reframing all our experiences: not only the stories in the cinema, but also just going out or going to a restaurant, you feel guilty and paralyzed by all this “. What if they had to make a war movie today? It would have been simply unthinkable, he argues.

A world turned upside down

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The Weapon of Deception – Operation Mincemeat: Coli Firth in a scene from the film

Unlike most WWII film literature, The Weapon of Deception – Operation Mincemeat doesn’t focus on big events, like D-Day or Dunkirk: “What told in the film is a corner of the world where everyone is used to these facts, are absorbed in their lives, have sipped the opportunities for fun and live in total darkness, even if somehow they always try to find a new balance. in an unusual space where everything is upside down, the war is underway but elsewhere “. It is not about giving a lesson, but an opportunity to explore some dynamics and tell an extraordinary story “of someone who has been left at home away from the front for different reasons of age or gender, a group of people fighting a different kind of war. Together they become the creators of a fiction in which they get lost, and this is very human. None of these characters do anything extraordinary, they don’t feel like heroes, or triumphalers. At that moment, the heroes were those at the front “.

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The role of women

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The Weapon of Deception – Operation Mincemeat: Kelly Macdonald in a scene from the film

In the world described by the film, traditionally dominated by men, women (Kelly Macdonald and Penelope Wilton) play a fundamental role, often becoming a point of reference. “They represent the heart and the conscience of the film. – explains the director – Men inevitably fall into a kind of competition, even in the sense of who wants to control and guide the narrative, because Montagu and Cholmondeley are two very different characters. Instead, women walk together on the same path, go in the same direction, move away from reality but then return. I am the center of the universe at least in my world and for this reason I always try to make everything revolve around a female point of view, even when technically it seems that men are in charge. Michelle is a very intelligent author with a unique point of view on this, but never ghettoized “.

The reunion with Colin Firth

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The Weapon of Deception – Operation Mincemeat – Colin Firth, Johnny Flynn, Matthew Macfadyen

The film set was also an opportunity to reunite with Colin Firth, twenty years after Shakespeare in Love. “We are friends and we are very close. We have wanted to go back to working together for a long time, since Shakespeare in Love, opportunities have not been lacking in these twenty years, we have been going around for a while with various projects but we have never successful, time was never on our side. But this time it finally happened, it was the right story and Colin was perfect for the role of Montagu, an adviser to the king, a witty, intelligent and refined lawyer, willing to leave all this behind to support the war “.

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The Weapon of Deception – Operation Mincemeat: A picture from the film

And he adds: “Colin is also a very politically committed person, we talked a lot about what we didn’t want this film to be. And when you work so much with someone you know, everything seems easier to you, even building a complex character that requires different qualities. Colin puts himself on it. at the service of the material, and if he trusts the person he works with, you have nothing to worry about. For example, in the final scene of Montegu and Cholmondeley on the staircase: we have analyzed, dissected and broken it down many times identifying all kinds of pitfalls that could be there. And in the end I said to him, ‘You don’t have to worry.’ These people don’t have the ability to look at things objectively, the words just come out of their mouth naturally and the scene will play itself out. end of a Shakespeare play, you never have to try it, if anything you have to try the acts that precede it. Colin and Macfadyen are extremely credible, both are very witty actors and working with them was a lot of fun “.

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