- John Gladden
- Run Time
- 2 hours and 9 minutes
VP Content Ratings
- Sex & Nudity
- Star Rating
“I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
For those of us who missed 1956’s The Man Who Never Was, Netflix’s current film, directed by John Gladden and adapted by Michelle Ashford from the book by Ben Macintyre, will introduce us to one of the great deceptions of WW 2. Early in the war the Nazis expected the Allies to invade Europe through Sicily, geographically the most obvious route. To fool Hitler and save thousands of casualties, the Brits needed to convince the Germans that they intended to invade Greece. But how to do this—which is where “wise as serpents” comes in, for there is no innocence in what the Brits came up with.
The film is narrated by Ian Fleming—yes, that Ian Fleming, pecking away at his typewriter. (A running joke throughout the film is that every other person working at British Intelligence is working on a spy novel.) As he types away, Fleming says, “In any story, if it’s good story, there is that which is seen, and that which is hidden. This is especially true in stories of war… There is the war we see, a contest of bombs and bullets, courage, sacrifice, and brute force, as we count the winners, the losers, and the dead… But alongside that war, another war is waged. A battleground in shades of gray, played out in deception, seduction, and bad faith. The participants are strange. They are seldom what they seem, and fiction and reality blur. This war is a wilderness of mirrors in which the truth is protected by a bodyguard of lies. This is our war.”
Fleming and company– Naval Intelligence officers Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) and Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen) in 1943 cook up an elaborately detailed plan to drop a dead body with uniform and papers that identify him as a fiction Brit Major Martin and drop the body off the coast of Spain so that the papers he is carrying will be found and turned over to Nazi officials. One of those papers reveals a planned invasion of Greece.
It is no spoiler to reveal that the incredibly complex ruse worked—after all, we did win the war, and the invasion of Sicily did produce far fewer casualties than feared because the Germans had shifted their troops from the Italian island to Greece. The enjoyment of the film is following all the effort necessary for creating a realistic fictional character that the German agents in Britain could check on and which would convince them that the dead man with the precious invasion document was real.
There is a touch of restrained romance in the film when the head of the Admiralty’s secretarial unit Hester Leggett (Penelope Wilton) joins Montagu and Cholmondeley by consenting to the use of her picture as that of the dead man’s sweetheart, to whom they give the name Pam. Montagu is married but has sent his wife and children to America because she is Jewish and in great danger should the Nazis succeed in invading the Island.
There are a legion of obstacles to overcome that tax the genius of the trio and their aides, even late in the game in Spain where they fear that the examining doctor knows too much about drowning victims. It might seem a bit ironic that as people of faith viewers are rooting for those promoting a Big Lie, but it is one meant to save lives, of course. And it goes to prove again the truth of the old saying that in war the first casualty is truth.
No questions for this review—except to raise the question of whether or not warfare destroys or contradicts all that we “normally” believe about truth and not killing.