Oeration Mincemeat is a popular recent film which references in the dialogue an old detective novel for which I wrote an introduction when it was reprinted a few years ago. The novel in question was The Milliner's Hat Mystery by Basil Thomson, and - as the film makes clear - a plot trick in the story was picked up by Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond and a spy in real life, and used as the basis for a scheme to deceive Hitler during the Second World War.
Fleming is a character in the film and is played by Johnny Flynn, but the key figures are Ewen Montagu (an excellent, under-stated performance by Colin Firth) and Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen, also very good). The screenplay, based on Ben Macintyre's book, departs from reality by introducing a love triangle involving these two men and Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald) but on the whole does a good job of telling a remarkable story.
The cast includes Jason Isaacs, an actor I've always liked (long ago I dreamed he might be cast as Harry Devlin!) as Admiral Godfrey and Penelope Wilton, who is terrific as Montagu's secretary Hester Leggett - she makes the most of a relatively limited role. Mark Gatiss plays Montagu's Communist brother and Alex Jennings is John Masterman (spymaster and author of two detective novels and a member of the Detection Club). Sadly, this film marked the final appearance of Paul Ritter, a fine actor who plays the coroner Bentley Purchas. Other key contributors are John Madden (director), Michelle Ashford (screenwriter) and Thomas Newman (music).
The ingredients are terrific and they are mixed together admirably. The result is a film that, despite some deviations from what actually happened, is in essence a good account of a remarkable slice of history as well as offering high calibre entertainment. So often a film like this can fall short of its potential. But Operation Mincemeat is a genuine success.