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‘Operation Mincemeat’ Screenwriter Michelle Ashford Talks the Boring Reality of Spies

Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen in Operation Mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat brings us an important question: What if we realized that being a spy isn’t that exciting? The movie documents a real event during World War II where the British army tried to trick Germany (and it worked) by giving them fake plans with a fake dead body. I remember learning about the tactical deception in school, but I was lucky seeing as part of this plan wasn’t revealed to the public until long after the war had ended.

In Michelle Ashord’s adaptation of British Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre, we get to see the creation of the plan and watch as this group of spies dreams of a life much more exciting than the spy life they have. That’s funny given that one of the characters in the film is James Bond creator and author Ian Fleming, played by Johnny Flynn.

As I spoke with Ashford about the movie, it was made clear that what drew her into this story wasn’t the unknown history of it, but rather, the love of the fairytale of being a spy. Even as they’re doing work as spies, these men wish for a life like Bond or what we know from media. They want this action-packed life and, instead, they’re doing the almost calm spy work that exists in real life.

It’s a great look into our ideas of the trade and the actuality of what it means to be a spy, and it all comes from Ashford’s adaptation: “I also felt the tone of the story was different from many other World War II stories. When I read Ben’s book I thought it was hilarious and it was because it’s sort of the anti-spy story, in a way. Because it is not a bunch of incredible cool, dashing people doing dashing things and drinking martinis. It’s the opposite. But it is actually the truth of what real spy work is like. And it’s boring and strange and kind of crazy and that’s what I loved about it.”

A bunch of men and their fake story

What’s hilarious about this movie, to me, is that it tells a story of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Darcy (yes, both Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen are in this movie) and their made-up story. When Ewen Montagu (Firth) and Charles Cholmondeley (Macfadyen) get into the planning of the deception, they quickly become obsessed with coming up with a backstory for their “character” that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of the deception.

But because of their general boredom with their work, it’s what inspires them to throw themselves completely into this plan. Pair that with Ian Fleming living out his own spy dreams by writing James Bond while being a Royal Navy Intelligence Officer, and it’s just a movie of a bunch of men playing pretend and it’s honestly kind of fun.

You can see our full conversation here!

Operation Mincemeat is on Netflix now, and if you like a historical film mixed with a bit of spy work, then this is the movie for you. But also, it has Mr. Darcy and Mr. Darcy, so it is a must see!

(image: Giles Keyte/Courtesy See-Saw Films and Netflix)

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Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast.