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John Merchant for Capital FM, added Dec 1 (Kate Winslet "gives a fantastic performance")
Robert L. from the Toronto Film Festival, added Dec 1 ("completely charming")
Daily Telegraph - Australia, October 25 ("polished war-time adventure")
Ain't It Cool News, October 24 ("deserves to find a wider audience")
Urban Cinefile, October 21 ("riveting film"; Winslet's "Hester is so real we can touch her")
Now Magazine, October 2001 ("you'll find yourself lost in the secret life of Bletchley")
UK Sunday Times, September 30, 2001 ("watchable but undistinguished movie")
The Observer, September 30, 2001 ("enjoyable, well-dressed and polite British thriller")
BBC Film 2001, September 30, 2001 ("fine performances of Dougray Scott and Kate Winslet")
BBC Films, September 29, 2001 ("a ripping yarn... engrossing and literate")
The Guardian, September 28, 2001 ("Winslet gives a good account of the game, go-getting Hester")
Femail, September 28, 2001 ("Winslet is delightful... a startlingly clever performance")
BBC News, September 28, 2001 ("fantastic British cast")
Birmingham Online Movies, September 28, 2001 ("decent period thriller")
Tiscali, September 28, 2001 ("an enjoyable espionage yarn")
My Movies, September 28, 2001 ("intelligent film... that is unfortunately not quite thrilling enough")
The Independent, September 28, 2001 ("muffled, plodding quality")
The Mirror, September 28, 2001 ("Kate is terrific as Hester")
Film Review magazine, October 2001 issue ("typically radiant turn from Winslet")
Teletext Cinema, September 27, 2001 ("Winslet...single-handedly keeps the movie running")
The Scotsman, September 27, 2001 ("quiet but always pulsating")
The London Evening Standard, September 27, 2001 ("I enjoyed Enigma intensely")
The UK Times, September 27, 2001 ("entertaining thriller")
The UK Times, September 27, 2001 ("I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Enigma")
The Financial Times, September 27, 2001 (it "grows on you")
The Daily Mail, September 25, 2001 ("Kate Winslet is delightful")
The Independent, September 25, 2001 ("meticulously crafted thriller")
News of the World, September 23, 2001 ("Winslet shines through in her role as Hester")
Scotland on Sunday, September 23, 2001 ("it huffs and puffs but fails to blow the house down")
Rob Ferraz for Exclaim ("compelling viewing")
UK Sunday Times, September 2, 2001 ("absorbing film, immaculately acted")
Older reviews are published on THIS PAGE
By John Merchant
We’ve had the American interpretation of the Enigma story in ‘U571’ but the British director and cast in the intelligent thriller ‘Enigma’ get a lot closer to the truth...
Starring Kate Winslet, Dougray Scott and Saffron Burrows
Directed by Michael Apted
Reminiscent of the best of 1940s spy dramas, ‘Enigma’ twists and turns with intrigue and revelation. The world is at war. An allied convoy of supply ships with 10,000 people on board steams its way across the Atlantic. Nazi U-Boats are closing in for the kill. The only way the allies can find out the position of the German submarines is to crack their enigma cipher. Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott) races to unravel the code at HQ in Bletchley Park. As if this wasn’t going to be hard enough, his girlfriend Claire (Saffron Burrows) goes mysteriously missing and a spy has seemingly infiltrated their camp. With the help of a Bletchley Park admin girl, Hester (Kate Winslet), he rushes to solve all three mysteries. Time is running out for all of them…
Kate Winslet proves once again what a versatile actress she is. Here, dressed as a frumpy secretary, she gives a fantastic performance as the girl that nobody would look twice at. Dougray Scott, best known as the bad guy in ‘Mission Impossible 2’, proves that he can do a lot more than growl and snarl, by carrying this very difficult lead role with ease. While Saffron Burrows, as ever, looks mouth-wateringly beautiful.
Recent events have put ‘Enigma’ in a somewhat different light. Kate Winslet’s recent marital split has increased the media attention and visibility of this film and the parallels between the film’s subject matter and our current situation after the terrorist attacks on America, are obvious. The film is more relevant than ever.
Added Dec 1: Review from movie lover Robert L. at the Toronto Film Festival:
The latest from the versatile Michael Apted is the kind of hokey cloak-and-dagger adventure Hitchcock would've embraced during his streak of American successes in the 1950s, had it not taken nearly 60 years for someone to tell the story of British codebreakers in World War 2. Adapted by Tom Stoppard from Robert Harris's novel, "Enigma"'s brand of opulent romantic melodrama is what is described in literary terms as a "beach read". I intend no air of condescension here -- while I could see every plot "twist" coming, I found the whole thing completely charming and a testament to everything that's wonderful about slick, unapologetically commercial filmmaking.
A haggard Dougray Scott instantly wins our sympathies as Tom Jericho, a mathematics genius who has resigned from the service following a traumatic breakup with Claire (cheshire-grinned Saffron Burrows), who has since disappeared under mysterious and suspicious circumstances. He is called back to Bletchley Park in 1943 to decipher a new series of encrypted German transmissions that could jeopardize a convoy of supply ships en route to England from America. Suspicious of his Claire's intentions, Tom teams up with her bookish roommate Hester (predictably feisty Kate Winslet), also a Bletchley employee, to find her and hopefully translate the Nazi code in time to prevent the destruction of the fleet. Tailing him the whole time is Wigram, a British Intelligence agent (an oily Jeremy Northram) and condescending dandy who is not only convinced that Claire is a traitor, but that Tom is somehow in on it, too.
A real Movie With A Capital "M", "Enigma" is the sort of festival entry that gets the purists upset and sniffing indignantly because it cost millions to produce, is easy to understand, and brings stars out to the red carpet. But if this event is truly to be a celebration of the cinema in ALL of its forms, then two-fisted espionage yarns have their place in the Festival, too. Superbly cast, nary a line rings false or a scene inconsequential. Expertly paced by the ever-reliable Michael Apted, and backed by a lovely score that bears the unmistakable sound of John Barry, "Enigma" had me appreciating the simple joys of what makes going to the movies fun, after nearly a week of witnessing other entries that while original and ambitious, at times tried too hard to be anti-Hollywood -- often to their detriment.
Perhaps intended as the British response to Michael Bay's "" (or at least to Jonathon Mostow's similarly-themed and entirely fabricated "U-571"), "Enigma" is the best feature film ever associated with the name Lorne Michaels, who, to my amazement, co-produced with Mick Jagger -- yes, THAT Mick Jagger (who appears briefly in a self-conscious cameo as a British officer). Wisely, Michael Apted has left the credits to the end.
Oct 24: From the Daily Telegraph (Australia):
Review by Vicky Roach
Maths genius Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott) has cracked the million-variation codes the Nazi U-boats use to communicate with each other, but he can't decipher the beautiful and mysterious Claire (Saffron Burrows). It's literally driving him crazy.
Based on Robert Harris's best-selling novel of the same name, Enigma is a romantic war-time thriller set at Britain's then top-secret Bletchley Park, where a motley bunch of linguists, mathematicians and crossword whizzes were employed as code breakers during World War II.
It's March, 1943, the German Navy has abruptly -- and rather suspiciously -- changed its encryption codes, putting a mid-Atlantic allied convoy into immediate danger and jeopardising the entire war effort.
Since Jericho was part of the team which broke the original code, his superiors have reluctantly called him back from an enforced absence, caused by a combination of nervous exhaustion and romantic obsession. Or, as Wigram, Jeremy Northam's mercilessly- charming MI5 man puts it, Tom "fell out of his pram".
The British intelligence services suspect a spy is in their midst and the psychologically unstable Jericho is a prime suspect. Adding probable treachery and potential treason to the equation is the sudden disappearance of Claire, whom we encounter only in flashback.
Has the blonde-in-blood-red-lipstick met a dastardly end? Has she simply shacked up with somebody else? Or is there more to the enigmatic beauty than meets the eye?
Jericho might be a brilliant young code breaker, but this time he's stumped -- by the German's new formula and the missing woman -- so he enlists the help of Claire's housemate, Hester (a homely and bespectacled Kate Winslet) and together they piece together what happened.
As it turns out, one solution leads to another.
Enigma, the first film to be made by Mick Jagger's production company, Jagged, comes with an impressive pedigree.
It's directed by Michael Apted, the man behind the 7-Up series and the most recent James Bond film, The World Is Not Enough, from a script by Tom Stoppard, the veteran British playwright who won an Oscar for his screenplay of Shakespeare In Love.
The result is a polished war-time adventure with a Boy's Own sensibility and driven by old-fashioned intelligence.
Thanks to my pal Sylvia of Dougray Scott in Focus for the tip on the above review.
Oct 24: From Ain't It Cool News:
Jon Boy Cracks The Code And Sees ENIGMA!!
Hey, everyone. Moriarty here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
Here’s a review from a reader regarding a film I’m curious to see, if only because I’m tired of waiting for another dose of the luminous Kate Winslet. Single again, eh? Maybe it’s time for a trip back to England to pitch some freakin’ woo...
I thought I’d drop you a line about a movie that opened in England a couple of weeks ago. I don’t think it’s opened in The States yet so I though I’d give you some advance word, as it’s a pretty decent little movie that deserves to find a wider audience than it has here.
Anyway, it’s ENIGMA starring Dougray Scott and Kate Winslet and, like U571, involves the German enigma code. This was a scrambled communications code that was cracked by the code breakers at Bletchley Park. They were, as I’m sure you know, a bunch of tweedy, eccentric proto-geeks who, after being recruited from Universities and via newspaper crossword puzzles (!), were set to work in a stately home in the English countryside. Their breaking of the code was one of the turning points in the war, saving countless lives and arguably cutting it short by several years.
Over here, the fuss over U571 was considerable - questions were asked in Parliament and there were plenty of furrowed-brow editorials from middle-market tabloids over the way that the Americans had appropriated ‘our’ story. Quite why historical veracity was demanded of an action movie is beyond me and just as no right thinking person would look to U571 for the true story of the Bletchley Park code-breakers they shouldn’t expect to find the truth here either, as at its heart ENIGMA is as false as U571 was.
What it means is that the same historical events have produced two pretty solid movies and that’s what ENIGMA is – a movie, no more and no less. Not an important statement designed to tell the world what happened like, say, BAND OF BROTHERS but a boy’s own adventure story played out in the English countryside – chock full of Nazi agents, sinister spy-catchers, steam trains and U-boats, with a mysterious hero and, of course, a femme fatale.
It’s pretty much an old-fashioned mystery of the kind you’d associate with Agatha Christie or John Buchan. It owes an awful lot to Hitchcock’s version of THE THIRTY NINE STEPS - a journey taken by our hero that leads to a remote Scottish cottage and a scene where a man is hunted on a train are only the two most obvious nods. It’s the sort of film where an awful lot of cups of tea get drunk and bicycles with baskets on the front are ridden about the countryside in search of clues in true Enid Blyton fashion. There’s something immensely pleasurable about seeing such an old-fashioned film up on the big screen – if only because it makes a nice change from the CGI and bullet-time explosions that we’ve been bombarded with recently.
The plot centers around genius mathematician Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott) who returns to Bletchley after a nervous breakdown resulting from a failed romance with base sex-pot Claire (Saffron Burrows). Claire has vanished and Tom finds evidence linking her to the theft of vital coded messages. Loyalty to his ex-lover means that he won’t go to the authorities so, accompanied by her tweedy room mate Hester (Kate Winslet), he decides to investigate her disappearance – drawing the attention of dapper spy-catcher Jeremy Northam.
Director Michael Apted nicely captures the austerity of wartime Britain and the cinematography is marvelous - depicting a provincial England of dingy boarding houses, country lanes, church yards and lowering skies. In fact it’s so persuasive that it’s a wonder the screen doesn’t curl up at the edges from the damp. There are great looks at the cutting edge technology of the day and it’s shocking to see how far we’ve come in this age of satellite navigation and laser guided missiles. Brief glimpses of German soldiers on the Eastern Front sending messages in Morse code through suitcase-sized wooden encryption devices and the primitive computer room at Bletchley both feel like they belong to a world far more than sixty years distant. The computer room itself is a marvel (Apted has filmed the real one) - full of whirring cylinders trying combination after combination ("like trying to find a needle in a haystack as opposed to trying to find a needle in a thousand haystacks" as Jericho puts it) until the code is cracked.
Of course, the old British movies that ‘Enigma’ is so influenced by didn’t have the tricky flashback structure that Tom Stoppard (adapting Robert Harris’ book) employs to such good effect and the viewer is kept off balance enough to be able to easily follow the story but still kept wondering just what revelation is going to be thrown out next and, even though we may grow to like and identify with the characters, there’s always the possibility that they may not be entirely what they seem. He’s pretty good on exposition too – it’s a talky movie but doesn’t get too bogged down in technical detail. It’s not perfect though, and the plot twists and turns a little too much for its own good before limping to a fairly uninspired conclusion (horribly similar to the ending of PATRIOT GAMES) but there’s plenty of good stuff before you get there.
The leads are just fine – Dougray Scott (who was pretty damned dreadful in MI:2) acts convincingly like someone who’s been to hell and back, so much so that it’s a shock to see him pre-breakdown. He has a pretty tricky task as, although (thankfully) there are no scenes of breakdown histrionics, the screenplay is structured so that you’re never entirely sure where you stand with him. It also largely manages to avoid the cliché of movie stars playing regular people – the ‘Michelle Pfieffer as dowdy waitress syndrome’ that dogs so many movies - he’s sufficiently shy and diffident (not to mention pale and drawn) that when it’s pointed out that people like him wouldn’t get second look from girls like Claire anywhere but at Bletchley Park, it seems entirely reasonable.
Kate Winslet essays her galumphing but foxy-if-she’ll-just-take-off-those-glasses Hester much as you’d expect. Again, she’s convincingly a normal person, saddled with a spectacularly unflattering haircut and dowdy clothes. Thankfully Saffron Burrows is on hand for glamour in the flashback scenes, which is just as well as everyone else is gray-skinned and unshaven or possesses Austin Powers teeth. Although Winslet is very much a supporting player she has a great scene that should remind people just how good an actress she is. It’s a scene that’s returned to several times in the movie and shows her watching Claire dancing in her bedroom. She watches from the doorframe both appalled and fascinated as Claire, wearing only her negligee, jiggles in front her record player. You can see in her face that she’s shocked yet deeply envious as Claire is as wild and free as she is sensible and cautious. When Claire spies her, she doesn’t laugh at her but pulls her into the room and dances with her (very awkwardly in Hester’s case) in a scene that beautifully shows why Hester is prepared to take enormous risks for someone that you’d imagine she would disapprove of terribly.
So there you go, it’s certainly not an explosive action flick and most of it takes place in the tranquil English countryside. There are shots of convoys and U-boats and an off-screen convoy battle plays a major part of the climax of the movie but the sense is of the war being fought elsewhere – it’s about how men and women hundreds of miles away from the front lines made a difference and has a timely message about how sometimes it’s necessary to withhold evidence for the greater good. It’s a pretty good mystery and the clues are of the best "of course - that’s why we saw that!" variety, with pretty good (and occasionally great) performances made in a resolutely old-fashioned style. It’s a solid movie – it probably won’t make many top ten lists and its best home is probably as a Sunday matinee on television but there are worse things than that. Oh, and fans of ‘Young Sherlock Holmes’ will be pleased to see Young Sherlock himself as a naval officer.
Sounds cool. Thanks again for the review, Jon Boy. We appreciate it. Moriarty out.
Oct 21: From Urban Cinefile:
Review 1 by Andrew L. Urban
The creator of Saturday Night Live, Lorne Michaels, plus Mick Jagger, with distinguished playwright Tom Stoppard, renowned filmmaker Michael Apted, legendary composer John Barry and a cast of brilliants are seemingly an unlikely crowd to pull off one of the most intelligent and rewarding war thrillers of recent times. But they have. True, the Brits have a solid gold track record of war films, and this belongs up there with the best. Much more layered and complex than the (deliberately sparse) synopsis suggests, Enigma is at first a very good story – probably due to it being based on fact. But good stories have been wasted on screen before, and neither is a top cast any guarantee of making it all stick to the audience. In this case, all the main elements work at their peak, from writer and director, to cast and composer. So are the supporting elements, from production design to underplayed digital effects. And like all good films, it begins with a sensational screenplay, fashioned from an even more complex book. Stoppard shapes his characters and his plot with apparent ease, belying the great insight and talent it requires. Apted, who has shown his chops from the acclaimed doco series 7 Up to 42 Up, right through to James Bond (The World is Not Enough), crafts an engaging, nay, riveting film, built on character but propelled by love and courage. Of course, it’s all done with the restraint of English understatement, which carries quite a wallop when it has to. The entire cast give him all they’ve got, working the slightest nuance, the smallest glance, into a web of personality. It’s smart, dynamic and yet handled with a light touch to also make it graceful. You won’t regret spending your time and money here.
Review 2 by Louise Keller
There is no doubt when a filmmaker gets everything right, and Enigma is a case in point. From Michael Apted's direction to Tom Stoppard's adept screenplay, John Barry's haunting, melodic score and its perfect cast, Enigma has all the elements to beguile, tantalise and entertain. The story itself is fascinating – many lives in the hands of a mathematical genius, that is the epitome of the anti-hero, and looks as though he could use a jolly good scrub. Dougray Scott is truly wonderful in this role – we believe his madness and brilliance – and understand his obsession with the golden girl of his dreams. But all the roles are memorable. Jeremy Northam (one of my favourites) delivers a simply crackling performance as head honcho of the secret service, milking the role for all its worth. You will have to look twice to recognise the wonderful Kate Winslet behind her owl glasses, dark hair and flat shoes. Her no-nonsense Hester is so real we can touch her, while Saffron Burrows is perfect as the elusive Claire, a statuesque and elegant blonde with red lips and loose morals. The locations are gorgeous – the road that winds through the fields covered with yellow flowers is a painting – while Barry's heavily stringed orchestrations with phrases that rise in intervals to enhance the tension, often reflect the big swells of the sea, as the U-boats come closer and closer. One of the things I like most about the film, is that the more you watch, the more you want to know. I did not want the film to end. Each character has a story of his own, and just like in real life, the characters are all thrown together. There are many memorable moments: picture the scene when a handful of code breakers are sitting around a map. They hold the key to the lives of hundreds of men, but they look like misfits playing a deadly game of battleships. Couching a perfect balance of tension, drama and humour, Enigma is gripping and enthralling entertainment. Of course, it is enigmatic – with such a title, how could it not b?
Review 3 by Richard Kuipers
OK thriller, shame about the love story. The attempt to weld a romantic mystery onto a wartime thriller is a marriage of much inconvenience. The details of the top secret work done by 12,000 people at Bletchley Park are so fascinating it's hard to care much about the disappearance of Tom Jericho's girlfriend. Director Michael Apted, who has always handled factual material with great skill and character-based drama with more uneven results, calls this "a smart, sexy movie about young people being heroic". Less sexy and more smart might have made this a much more absorbing study of one of the most critical intelligence operations of WW2. The gathered army brass, creepy secret service spook Wigram (Jeremy Northam) and an eccentric roster of mathematicians, scientists and crossword puzzle champions assembled for the code-breaking task provide a colourful human counterpoint to the technical data and there seems no need to flashback to troubled genius Jericho (Dougray Scott) in happier times with mystery woman Claire. Especially when the delightful Kate Winslet is on hand as the new girl in Tom's life. At least Saffron Burrows is believable as a woman whom men would disgrace and debase themselves for. Unfortunately she's opposite the uncharismatic Dougray Scott whose pasty appearance suggests an exclusive diet of chips fried in the cheapest oil and gallons of black coffee. He is meant to be a man under duress but he looks like a man six feet under. U-571 tried to steal the Enigma glory for America; Apted's film sets the record much straighter and does a good job when dealing with the facts. Unfortunately he lets a not-so-good story get in the way of the truth and the end result is half-baked.
to my pal Sylvia of Dougray
Scott in Focus for the tip on the Urban Cinefile reviews!
Oct 5: From Heat Magazine (29 Sept - 5 October issue):
Cracking the Code
Starring: Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam, Saffron Burrows
Director: Michael Apted CERT 15
The plot: This is the film that’s been given an unlikely added boost of publicity by the recent tabloid gossip that its stars Kate Winslet and Dougray Scott just happened to have split from their respective partners around the same time and are said to be "comforting each other". And appropriately enough, the characters played by Winslet and Scott do find comfort in each other’s arms as this intricately plotted romantic thriller develops.
Enigma is set in the early 40s in and around Bletchley Park, the top secret base of Britain’s code-breaking operation during World War II. Scott is the film’s hero, but he’s not exactly your typical action-man type. He plays a maverick mathematical genius who’s recovering from a nervous breakdown after getting dumped by a beautiful colleague (Burrows). Now she’s disappeared and a fey but ruthless secret service man (Northam) is on her trail, suspecting that she’s a spy. Scott teams up with Winslet, the missing girl’s room-mate, to find her while simultaneously trying to break a new German code and help win the war.
What’s right with it? This is a defiantly old-fashioned, richly detailed, beautifully made piece of film-making. The whole thing feels like a throwback to a bygone age when movie heroes were dashing, stylish and intelligent rather than young, muscular and dumb, and when heroines were allowed to look and behave like real people rather than idiot dollybirds. Winslet does her frumpy, bespectacled thing here to wonderful effect - her beauty still shines through because she’s so bright and spunky. Scott is a bit of a misery-guts but he makes for a highly convincing genius, while Northam pretty much steals the film with his wryly camp swagger.
What’s wrong with it? It’s bloody complicated. Not only does this story attempt to explain the nature of the Bletchley code-breaking operation and the Enigma machines used to decipher German navy signals, but it throws in multiple spy searches, a romantic triangle and a subplot involving the cover-up of a massacre in Poland. Oh, and there are various flashbacks which only serve to muddy the already thickly congested waters.
Length: 117 minutes, and you need to pay attention to all of them.
Verdict: If you’re brave enough to grapple with intricate plotting, this is an involving, suspenseful and lovingly crafted thriller of the old school.
**** Boyd Hilton
CERT 15, Released 28 September
Starring Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam, Saffron Burrows
The dictionary definition of enigma is 'riddle; puzzling person or thing,' and this movie version of Robert Harris's famous book is just that - puzzling.
For a start, the storyline tracks forwards and backwards in time, leaving it up to the viewer to piece together the puzzle of what happened, when and to whom. Then there's the riddle of the German Enigma code itself, which has to be broken before we can understand what's going on.
Set mainly in 1943, the film opens when brilliant mathematician Tom Jericho (Scott) returns to the top-secret British code-breaking base of Bletchley Park after a complete nervous breakdown. It soon becomes apparent his collapse was brought on not only by the pressure of his work at Bletchley, but also by the disappearance of his fellow worker and lover Claire (Burrows). Where has she gone and why has she hidden stolen documents from Bletchley in her room?
His colleagues hope that by immersing himself in his work, Jericho will forget about Claire, but the shadowy presence of secret service agent Wigram (Northam) asking personal questions encourages Jericho to dig deeper. With the help of Claire's concerned roommate Hester (Winslet), he decides to discover the truth.
At first, the disjointed structure is quite confusing, but as the story begins to build you'll find yourself lost in the secret life of Bletchley. This antiquated word, where complicated mathematical equations are done with pencil and paper, will make you shake your head in disbelief.
The old-fashioned air is reinforced by the look of the film - there's a lot of deep brown, as if it were sepia-tinted - and by the acting.
Scott seems so stoical yet world weary you wonder why he doesn't just keel over on the spot, while the lovely Winslet is all jolly hockey sticks efficiency (even with her real life pregnancy difficult to conceal at times).
The biggest acting accolades, however, have to go to Northam, who puts in a brilliant performance as the smooth, snake-like Wigram, charming yet deadly dangerous. It helps that he gets all the best lines, adding a humorous touch to the taut script.
Purists may quibble that the ending of the book has changed, but anyone who's heard of Bletchley Park and the amazing Enigma machines will be intrigued and gripped by this particular puzzle.
4 out of 5 stars
September 30: From the Sunday Times:
Film review - Love in a code climate
Over the years, the story of Bletchley Park and the clever chaps who worked there breaking German codes has become a kind of cult folk epic. It's the brainy person's Battle of Britain, with the mathematical genius Alan Turing as the thinking man's Monty. The director Michael Apted's Enigma - based on the Robert Harris novel - sets out to celebrate a much- neglected national hero: the great British boffin.
The brightest of the bunch is Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott), a brilliant mathematician who's been hurt by the only foe more heartless than the Hun: true love. Claire (Saffron Burrows) is a Bletchley beauty who broke his heart and gave him a breakdown. Ah, women.
On returning to work at Bletchley, the lovesick Tom discovers the mysterious Claire is missing. When he finds German coded messages hidden in her bedroom, we're left wondering if she is a hapless victim, a heartless slut or just another pro-Nazi bitch.
Meanwhile, the Germans have a new code that must be broken before allied shipping crossing the Atlantic is destroyed by U-boats. So while Tom's colleagues try to crack the new German code, Tom engages in a little code- breaking of his own: finding out what happened to Claire.
He teams up with Hester Wallace (Kate Winslet) - a jolly, Famous Five kind of girl who zooms around on her bike with German codes stuffed in her knickers. In hot pursuit is Wigram (Jeremy Northam), a slimy spy-hunter who suspects Tom is a traitor.
Enigma wants to be an old-fashioned spy thriller, a history lesson and a big love story rolled into one. The result is a watchable but undistinguished movie. Tom Stoppard's screenplay tries to explain the art of code-breaking, but only the brainy and fans of Harris's book will be able to follow it.
As a love story Enigma is a standard tale of obsession. Scott, contrary to what people are saying, is a minor talent. Burrows is pretty in a doelike way, but she can't light up a screen and firebomb your libido like Greta Scacchi could. Strange to say, it's Winslet - frumpy, fat and with gruesome goggles - who is actually more sexy than Saffron. If only it had less plot and more personality, Enigma would be a better film.
September 30: From the Observer:
Review by Jason Solomons
Michael Apted's Enigma is like a tweed jacket with crackled leather patches at the elbows. It is comfortable and sensible, a sturdy sort of film, not very sexy but redolent of pipe tobacco and Oxbridge libraries.
Set among the donnish code breakers of Bletchley Park in 1943, it also now takes on a resonance which transcends its period. Watching it while Bush and Blair form war coalitions, the film shows those of us too young to remember what it was like to live under the spectre of war. Enigma is a war movie without guns and soldiers, where the real action is confined to a domestic basement. As Tom Stoppard's literate script puts it: 'This is where the swots become as glamorous as fighter pilots.'
Dougray Scott plays maths whizz Tom Jericho with a Manchester accent and a painful lack of social confidence. He gives him a grammar school dowdiness that makes him awkward in his clothes, as if his knitted tie constricted him while all the Cambridge chums move smoothly and charmingly around Bletchley's grounds - just like being back at school, old boy.
The story treats Jericho's fevered attempts to crack the Germans' intercepted codes using a wonderful old computer made of wood. There are many fine scenes of the assembled boffins sitting in their room playing chess, scratching their tufty beards and winning the war by doing crosswords. And here the details delight: the black out boards being removed in daylight, the lunchtime classical recitals, the crowds swarming out of Bletchley back to boarding houses and landladies and Ovaltine.
John Beard's design is complemented by Seamus McGarvey's photography, which makes England look green and pleasant but a little dun-coloured and ill-fed: sunshine is rationed in wartime too.
British films do this stuff well and if you must do period pieces, it clearly pays to choose a period which was been captured on film in the first place. It gives us pertinent comparisons and there are moments in Enigma when you could be watching Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll.
Churchill would have liked this film but he might also have complained that Enigma is a war movie wrapped in a love story - Scott's Jericho is obsessed not only by numbers but by Saffron Burrows. This torments him and it takes Kate Winslet's jolly Cotswolds gal to ground him with her practicality.
The love story is less interesting and you get the feeling Apted couldn't really be bothered with it, though Winslet is rather good, stomping around like an Enid Blyton character saying robust things such as: 'You aren't the one with the Kestrel transcripts stuffed in your knickers.' Call it Twin Set and Pearl Harbour, but Enigma is an enjoyable, well-dressed and polite British thriller that your grandmother would like.
From BBC Film 2001:
Review by Jonathan Ross
Maybe it's because the subject provides a degree of certainty in confused times, but there's no doubt that Second World War movies are back in fashion. Already this year we've had "Pearl Harbour", "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" and "Enemy at the Gates". Nicholas Cage is about to lead "Windtalkers", Bruce Willis has just completed "Hart's War" and of course the Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks mini-series "Band Of Brothers" is about to arrive on BBC Two. So perhaps the arrival of Enigma is very timely.
The background to it's story is certainly fascinating - the frantic efforts of experts based at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire to decipher the Nazi's Enigma coding system.
And the film's created a bit of a buzz - though female lead Kate Winslet was absent from this week's Royal Premiere, there was a big turn out to see other stars such as Dougray Scott, very much on the ascendant after his stand-out turn in "Mission: Impossible 2", not to mention Mick Jagger, making his debut as a film producer. Add the involvement of the experienced Michael Apted as director, ultra-clever Oscar-winning screenwriter Tom Stoppard and the popularity of Robert Harris's bestseller on which the film is based, and all seems set fair.
So what did I get out of it? Well, this is a British film with some scale and ambition and a few entertaining moments. However, given the possibilities of the compelling historical story, I expected to like it more.
That's despite the fine performances of Dougray Scott and Kate Winslet, who isn't afraid to really frump down for the role. But it's Jeremy Northam who steals the film as the shady spymaster.
The problems start with Saffron Burrows - for my money one of the worst actresses in films today. I don't think I've seen one movie where she was convincing, and I've sat through most of them. Here she's cast as a mysterious, compelling character who drives Scott out of his mind but seeing as he's playing opposite the female version of Pinocchio, the film is fundamentally flawed right there: you cannot for one second believe that he'd become obsessed with her.
Tom Stoppard's script is surprisingly deficient in both wit and structure, while the scenes set at Bletchley Park, rather than evoking an incredible period and its remarkable, vital challenge, suggest an uninteresting boarding school filled with two-dimensional toffs.
The end result is rather like a parody of an old fashioned war film, a film about the 1940s made in the style of the 1940s and lacking any real excitement for a contemporary audience, despite such great subject matter and some strong performances.
Sept 29: From BBC Films:
Based on the bestselling novel by Robert Harris, "Enigma" is a superior period drama that pays tribute to the heroic cryptanalysts of Bletchley Park. They spent World War II deciphering the codes Nazi U-boats used to communicate with each other. Stylishly directed by Michael Apted from an intelligent Tom Stoppard script, it's a ripping yarn that recalls such early Hitchcock classics as "The Secret Agent" and "The Man Who Knew Too Much".
Dougray Scott plays Tom Jericho, a brilliant code breaker recovering from a breakdown brought on by his obsessive desire for the beautiful Claire (Saffron Burrows). Returning to Bletchley Park, he finds himself embroiled in two seemingly unrelated mysteries. One involves Claire's sudden disappearance, the other is a race to crack the Germans' Enigma code before their subs make mincemeat of an Allied convoy crossing the Atlantic. With help from Claire's room mate Hester (a bespectacled Kate Winslet), Tom uncovers a web of betrayal and intrigue every bit as fiendish as the Enigma itself.
There are many reasons to admire this engrossing and literate movie: the stirring score by John Barry, the excellent period detail, Stoppard's deft combination of historical fact and dramatic conjecture. What can't be added to that list is the film's hurried and implausible conclusion, which whisks the viewer away from Bletchley to facilitate an unlikely action-packed climax. But this is a minor weakness in a classy picture that marks an auspicious debut for Mick Jagger's new production company, Jagged Films.
Sept 28: From the Guardian:
Review by Peter Bradshaw
No red-blooded student of history could fail to be fascinated at the story of Bletchley Park and the Enigma code-breaking machine in the second world war. It's packed with drama and gorgeous period incidentals. There's the Germans' original cipher machine plucked from the sinking U-boat; there are the pipe-smoking, chess-playing, eccentricity-displaying chaps recruited from Oxbridge to work on cracking the code; there are the adorable WAAF-type girls uncomplainingly working on second-division secretarial tasks in their dimly lit hut.
As it happens, theatregoers on both sides of the Atlantic have for years been aware of the legendary emotional back-story to all this in the form of Hugh Whitemore's play Breaking the Code: the story of Alan Turing, the brilliant but unhappy Station X codebreaker whose homosexuality was tolerated because of his incalculable contribution to the war effort. Robert Harris's bestselling novel, and this screen adaptation by Tom Stoppard, briskly abolish Turing's role in history, moreover ruling out any fictional variation, and effectively reclaim the Enigma story for showbusiness family values.
This is not the depressing story of suicidal cottaging boffins, but of a smoulderingly handsome maths whiz turned action hero, Tom Jericho, played by Dougray Scott, who is to enjoy the romantic favours of two beautiful women employed at Bletchley Park: first Saffron Burrows and then Kate Winslet. His detective work will involve an exciting chase in a classic car, a liaison at a smart West End hotel and an exploding submarine up in Scotland - preposterous Boy's Own stuff which is light years away from the closeted realities of Bletchley Park, but it gives director Michael Apted a chance to show the form he developed on the recent Bond extravaganza The World Is Not Enough.
Scott first appears on screen as a shambling, unshaven creature who has been allowed back to Bletchley Park after a "breakdown", brought on by overwork and - we are indirectly given to understand - emotional problems. (And it is incidentally here, I suspect, in this combination of talent and torment, that Stoppard's screenplay allows for a tiny, residual acknowledgement of the Turing legend.) The Bletchley Park brainboxes, led by Logie - a warmly droll, engaging performance from Tom Hollander - know they desperately need Jericho's help because the Germans have changed the U-boats' communication code, leaving their north Atlantic convoys terrifyingly unprotected. So Scott has to get his thinking cap back on for king and country, and come to terms as best he can with the memories of Claire, a colleague with whom he had a passionate affair but who has now mysteriously disappeared.
The movie sets two hares running. There's the problem of how to crack the Nazis' devilish code, and there's the second plot, which is the "emotional" storyline and the centre of a conspiracy far more sinister and more important than breaching the armour of the Germans' reinforced cipher-system.
This first problem is solved fairly straightforwardly: Jericho realises they will be able to work out the code from the U-boats' positions when they actually attack: a "eureka" scene similar to Michael Redgrave as Barnes Wallis solving the problem of how high to release his bouncing bombs from seeing the convergence of spotlights at the theatre. It is a chilling moment when the intelligence team realises that the convoy will have to be "sacrificed" for this discovery, and I thought I heard a whisper of Jack Hawkins in The Cruel Sea: "But there are some of our chaps in the water!"
But the real structural problem concerns the second plotline with its skulduggery and political bad faith. Stoppard's script gives away almost in the first reel what Robert Harris's novel saves for the big finish. We are hardly 15 minutes into the picture when we get stomach-turning scenes of German officers presiding over a mass grave in a forest, one Wehrmacht signaller tapping away his encrypted messages. It doesn't take much to put two and two together, and much of the impact of betrayal and counter- betrayal is lost. Michael Apted and Tom Stoppard are spoiling the ending to their own film!
Perhaps they thought that an early showing of these scenes cranks up the movie's action quotient and without them, it would all just be about a bunch of wittering limeys with their glorified adding machines. I can only say I disagree: much of the story's attraction is its purely cerebral mise-en-scène . But Kate Winslet gives a good account of the game, go-getting Hester, Claire's housemate. She is a very different person from the slimline, starry, sexy Winslet advertised on the film's poster. On screen she is the bespectacled, dumpy, less attractive best friend, and, as in Harris's novel, there is something piquant in Jericho finding a second-best love with humble, unglamorous Hester now that Claire is missing, presumed dead.
The real star turn, however, is the secret service man, Wigram, brought in to investigate Claire's disappearance. This is a marvellously enjoyable performance from Jeremy Northam, for whom Stoppard has some mouth-watering lines. He relishes every patrician flourish, every languid, feline insinuation. "A hunting print!" he marvels to Scott's landlady, gazing raptly at her walls, adding with pure snobbish cruelty: "Do you hunt?" I would have liked to have seen more of Northam, who has the spirit of John Buchan as he charges up and down train corridors, service revolver drawn. The movie leaves open the possibility of a post-war sequel with the delectable Claire: perhaps super-spies Northam and Burrows can be reunited in Suez?
Sept 28: From Femail:
We are learning that modern warfare is waged as much by intelligence gathering as by armed conflict, so this Anglo-American film suddenly has more topicality than its makers intended. Enigma is a World War II thriller which may struggle to find an audience among those at the more youthful end of the film-going spectrum, who have been conditioned to expect fast car chases and ear-splitting explosions. All the same, Enigma is a treat for older people, especially for those who remember the Forties and Fifties. It is painstakingly researched, and well crafted. Most of all, it is a very welcome surprise to those of us who have grown resigned to the British being airbrushed out of World War II history by Hollywood.
U-571 showed American submarines capturing an Enigma machine from a German U-boat when this was, in reality, a British achievement. Saving Private Ryan seemed to suggest that U.S. forces had conquered the Normandy beaches on their own. Yet here's a new film which shows our previously uncelebrated men and women at Bletchley Park breaking German codes, saving countless lives and helping to win the war. And who is the British patriot putting this story on screen? Why, it's none other than Mick Jagger, for this is the first film to go before the cameras of his new company, Jagged Films. Jagger himself appears as an RAF officer, though if you blink you'll miss him.
Tom Stoppard's screenplay is - apart from a few inauthentic sounding swear words which have lumbered it with an otherwise undeserved 15 certificate - a faithful translation of Robert Harris's best seller. It's about a brilliant mathematician called Tom Jericho (played by Dougray Scott) who returns to Bletchley Park to break a new German code, and discovers the mole who has tipped off the Germans that their old code has been broken.
To add to the tension of whodunit, and will-he-break-it, Jericho - the Forties' equivalent of a computer hacker - is suspected of being the spy himself, and is constantly menaced by a smoothly sinister intelligence officer (Jeremy Northam). Jericho, meanwhile, suspects that the real spy might have been his own former girlfriend (Saffron Burrows), who has disappeared from Bletchley Park after ditching our hero and giving him an emotional breakdown. As if that wasn't enough for poor Jericho to be coping with, he finds himself in a potential love triangle, as he realises that his old flame's frumpy, jolly-hockey-sticks house-mate, Hester (Kate Winslet), is more than a good sort: she's the love of his life.
The atmosphere of Bletchley Park seems very authentic - you can almost smell the pipe tobacco and unwashed socks in the room where the assorted boffins congregate to crack the German codes. Mike Apted, always good with actors and atmosphere, is on top form directing these scenes.
Kate Winslet is delightful as a plain but indefatigable young woman pleasantly surprised at any man taking a romantic interest in her. It's also good to see a thoroughly middle-class, competent British heroine, the sort you might actually meet in real life. This is a startlingly clever performance - truthful, funny and touching.
Jeremy Northam has, and is, great fun as a supercilious spy-catcher, who trusts nobody and especially doesn't care for anyone who is a lot cleverer than he is - a very English trait, this, and one that isn't shown on screen very often.
Dougray Scott's designer stubble seems anachronistic and has a distracting habit of disappearing within scenes, but he lends a saturnine, troubled presence to the leading role, and manages to convince us that there's a lot buzzing about inside his head. It is not his fault that the dawning of his love for Winslet's character is underwritten, or that his longing for his ex-girlfriend (shown in soft-focus Hovis-commercial flashbacks) becomes increasingly irksome.
It is a considerable weakness that Saffron Burrows, though beautiful, has a terribly dull, monotonous voice, and doesn't suggest the degree of femme fatality that her character needs.
Younger audiences brought up on non-stop action also may find the attention to character and mood old-fashioned, though the return to the gentler pace of Thirties Hitchcock films does give Enigma its own period charm. A more serious charge is that the generally light-hearted feel detracts from the darkest, more angst-ridden moments. Apted seems unsure whether to make this a rattling good romantic yarn in the tradition of The Thirty-Nine Steps, or an altogether darker, noirish psychological thriller like The Third Man. He settles mostly for the former.
But even if Enigma never hits the heights of big-screen tension and suspense, and resembles a BBC costume drama too much for comfort, it's consistently gripping and enjoyable. Add the wit of Stoppard's dialogue, and a stirring, melodic score by John Barry, and this movie is well worth experiencing.
Sept 28: From BBC News:
Enigmatic Film Cracks The Code
It has got a fantastic British cast, telling a heroic British story by an accomplished British director - in fact, it is all jolly British. So, if you were one of the sticklers who was put off by U-571's loose, American interpretation of history, you can be comforted by the fact that Enigma's cast and crew tried to get every little detail right.
The main characters are fictional - they and their story are based on Robert Harris's novel. But the setting of the top secret Bletchley Park, where a rag bag assembly of brilliant minds worked deciphering German radio messages during World War II, was very real. Enigma's characters are made to be part of that rag bag - there is flawed mathematical genius Tom (Dougray Scott), crossword champion Hester (Kate Winslet), femme fatale Claire (Saffron Burrows) and wonderfully camped-up intelligence officer Wigram (Jeremy Northam).
Despite the fact that Winslet is the only big name, the strength of the performances from the others means they deserve to become a lot better known, and soon. In fact, Scott continues to be talked about as the next James Bond. He certainly proved his ability to hold a leading role in a major film here, with an immersion in the character that makes the level of realism almost unnerving.
Tom is a Cambridge student who had cracked the code once before, had a nervous breakdown over Claire, and is sent home to recuperate. But the Germans change their code and the Bletchley big wigs have little choice but to bring the prodigal Tom back - emotional instabilities and all. Claire is the irresistible, manipulative siren, played with a deadly charisma by Saffron Burrows, who snares Tom and then becomes the centre of a mystery over whether there is a spy in the camp.
This detective story runs alongside the two love stories - first Tom and Claire, then Tom and Hester.
And the presence of the greater war thriller - where they are all (or almost all) trying to crack the German codes - runs throughout.
Confusion -- The presence of so many threads provides lots of opportunities for tension, but it also becomes confusing, especially when they are all coming together at the end. The whodunit is the dominant part of the story - but the film occasionally lives up to its name and leaves the viewer wondering what it is that has actually been done. But at least it does not fall into the common trap among British films of feeling like it was made for a Sunday night slot on BBC Two.
On the whole, director Michael Apted - who was also behind James Bond's The World Is Not Enough - has struck a good balance.
Sept 28: From Birmingham Online Movies:
Reviewed by Jerry Chester
On the face of it the story of how the German Enigma code was broken in World War II seems more like the stuff of a documentary than the plot for a film. In fact Channel 4 have already visited the subject with their "Station X" series, and Derek Jacobi has already starred in the excellent "Breaking the Code" drama, as Alan Turing, one of the academics whose expertise helped crack Enigma.
So director Michael Apted had a number of problems on his hands trying to find a fresh angle on this wartime triumph of mathematics over machinery, and, provided you're prepared not to regard this as a true and accurate reflection of how the work was done, he's done a pretty good job.
The first problem Apted faced is that it took an awful long time, and a lot of staring at seemingly meaningless groups of letters, before the Enigma code was cracked - not the sort of thing to keep movie fans on the edge of their seats.
Tom Stoppard, who wrote the screenplay from a book by Robert Harris,
introduces a race against time to crack part of the code before a convoy
in the Atlantic is decimated by German U Boats.
Apted also had to find a hero around which to base the film, and clearly felt that Alan Turing, the enigmatic gay genius, wasn't the right material, or that Jacobi had already done too good a job. Instead we have Thomas Jericho for a hero, played all smoldering and moody by Dougray Scott.
The film starts with a series of flashbacks as Jericho returns to Bletchley Park, the home of the codebreakers, after recovering from a nervous breakdown. The flashbacks cleverly introduce us to the German Enigma coding machine that's at the heart of the plot, and to the blonde bombshell Claire Romily, played by Saffron Burrows, who's broken Jericho's heart and pushed him over the edge.
Then though the film veers dangerously toward cliché - why do all bosses have to be ignorant buffoons, all academics eccentric boffins, and all senior army officers intolerant and bad-tempered? The film gets back on track as Jericho struggles to find a way to break a new variant of the Enigma code, and at the same time investigate the disappearance of his former girlfriend with the help of Kate Winslet, playing Hester Wallace.
And here's where you really have to suspend your disbelief if you're to enjoy this film. Firstly you have to accept Kate Winslet playing a dowdy frump - and to film directors that means wearing a pair of glasses and some unflattering cardigans. Secondly you have to accept that Scott and Winslet would be allowed to race around the countryside with an Enigma machine hidden in the back of their car and the coded messages stuffed in Ms Winslet's knickers (which we don't get to see because of course she is a dowdy frump.) Also Jericho is expected to be part academic and part action hero, leaping onto moving trains and having fist-fights with the baddies.
Stoppard's script though is witty enough to keep you interested, and clever enough to keep you guessing, and has a twist in its happy ending that I won't spoil. Accurate history this is not, but neither is it the kind of historical distortion that made U571 so offensive. The period feel is good, though you have to wonder if all cars in the second world war were really as spotlessly clean as they appear in this film.
If you want to know really went on at Station X you'd be better off checking out the official website for Bletchley Park, but if you want a decent period thriller this is the film for you.
September 28: From Tiscali:
- it's only a story
Don't look for historical accuracy in this tale of Second World War code-breakers: Enigma is simply an enjoyable espionage yarn.
Since starting this column, the film I've written about that has drawn most letters was the blockbuster submarine drama U-571, in which the Americans claim all the credit for capturing the Enigma machine.
It's a sore point with you, this Enigma stuff. It's a sore point with a lot of people. Earlier this week I got a letter from Andrzej Morawicz, president of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain, reminding me of Poland's greatest contribution to the allied cause: mathematicians for the Polish intelligence service were the first to break the Enigma code.
In July 1939, the Polish intelligence service passed over to British intelligence a copy of the Enigma machine and the fruits of their work done in breaking the code in the years 1932-1939. The Polish Embassy states that the machines were handed to Colonel Stewart Menzies, the deputy head of British Secret Intelligence Services (MI6). "This," says the Embassy spokesman, "allowed the code-breakers at Bletchley Park to 'read' some of the most important German orders and dispositions." Back at the Federation of Poles, Mr Morawicz has concluded that the new film Enigma, which makes only the briefest mention of these efforts, and which instead chooses to portray a Pole as a traitor, "is a gratuitous slur on Poles who fought side by side with their British allies".
I told you it was a sore point. The outrage felt by many of the people above is similar to that felt by my correspondents over the issue of U-571: a great number of you writing then couldn't bear the notion that a film would exaggerate the Americans' part in the Enigma saga. And just to show you that I've a sense of balance, I'm about to apply the same criteria to Enigma as I did to U-571: in other words, get over it, Mr Morawicz, this is fiction. If you don't believe that authors have always altered and shaped life's characters and events to suit their own purposes, I can only refer you to the works of William Shakespeare.
Enigma is based on the novel by Robert Harris, and has been adapted for the screen by Tom Stoppard, and directed by the recent Bond-graduate Michael Apted. The film is a good old-fashioned yarn set around the tense environment of Bletchley Park, with a couple of star-crossed lovers thrown in for good measure. Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott) is one of the Bletchley Park bright sparks; the trouble is, he fell in love with a certain Claire Romilly (Saffron Burrows), who gave him the shove, and he hasn't been right since. When he comes back to work, Claire seems to have disappeared from the scene. Instead, there is Claire's friend Hester Wallace (Kate Winslet), a plucky, bespectacled funster who is all quiet romanticism, wool skirts and Ovaltine. The scenes in the code-breaking room at Bletchley are moody and exciting: a bunch of right clever-clogs (including the obligatory Russian and a guy with a stammer) tap pencils on their teeth and try to get to grips with the Germans' new codes.
Though still a bit of a nervous wreck, Jericho gets to work on two fronts, first trying to find out why a certain regular transmission is being ignored, and second, trying to find Claire. It may be that the two are related. I'm not going to go into that, it would waste the plot - and this is one of those films in which the plot is the star - but you already know that treason and underhandedness will play a part. Jeremy Northam, emerging now as one of the screen's most reliably charming cads, plays a British intelligence officer, a man who is dapperly malign, but fierce in his commitment to the deeper cause. His scenes with Jericho are bursting with style.
Apted has overdone it with the Bond-style sound effects, and he sometimes allows the scenes to surrender subtlety to the production design, but the film raises its stakes expertly as it progresses, with the threat of a devastating submarine attack on a convoy of British merchant ships looming all the time.
I can't think why the excellent Dougray Scott wasn't allowed to play Jericho in his own Scottish voice, but no matter: he is an intelligent performer who is well able to convince you both of his chaos of feeling and of a formidable capacity for calculation. He and Winslet are good together. Their characters grow in relation to one another over the course of the film, and each is good at suggesting hesitation and the weight of unsaid things. Winslet can flick from worry to delight in nanoseconds; there is something genuine about her, and she is at her best playing bright, slightly impressionable English girls.
I should say, without seeking to give too much away, that what we will call the Polish question is not nearly so grave as my correspondents claim. The Pole is a traitor, but he is not evil, and the film provides plenty of rationale for why the character would be pressed to such extremes. It is the job of fiction not merely to respond to the world of recorded facts, but to conjure with the world of plausibilities. The fact that a Pole never worked at Bletchley Park is, so far as the film goes, neither here nor there.
The much more troubling fact, given that it's a story, and a made-up story at that, is the way Enigma, in its last third, gives the dialogue over so comprehensively to explanations of the action. It's like the end of an episode of Scooby-Doo, where we hear the long explanation of what happened when and why, before someone has the rubber mask torn from their face. I know it's a complicated espionage tale, and I know we're all a bit stupid, but Stoppard goes completely overboard in his efforts to make sure we've got the point, and in this respect the film is dulled.
But it isn't destroyed. Enigma keeps you going, bringing old-fashioned style and some nice detail to a subject that may be wildly contested but is also endlessly riveting. People interested in making drama are neither by necessity historians nor newscasters: the point is whether what they produce works as drama. Enigma has many faults, but it is just on the right side of enjoyable.
Sept 28: From My Movies:
is a new English World War Two drama adapted from the best selling novel
by Robert Harris. Set around Bletchley Park – the English country
mansion that housed England’s top secret crack Nazi code breaking team
during the war – the film follows the return of master code cracker
Tom Jericho ("MI2" star Dougray Scott), who was shipped off to
the bughouse a month earlier, after a disastrous love affair with the
mysterious Claire (Saffron Burrows). Upon his return he sets out to
track down his missing ex with the help of her frumpy housemate Hester
(Kate Winslet), while also working with his colleagues on cracking the
nazi’s enigma code a second time, before messages sent in the revised
code can bring U–boat attacks down upon the allied merchant shipping
convoys crossing the Atlantic.
Sept 28: Review from The Independent:
The Big Picture - Tales from the cryptic
How do you turn a desk job into a thriller? This is the problem which Enigma, based on the best-selling novel by Robert Harris, sets out to solve. It's essentially another story of how we won the war, only here the war is being fought not on the battle fronts of Europe but in the operations centre of a glum Victorian railway town between Oxford and Cambridge, its very name "stranded somewhere between blanching and retching", is where many bright young men and women worked in secrecy to crack the Germans' supposedly unbreakable Enigma code.
One such is Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott), a Cambridge mathematician who has been instrumental in breaking "Shark", the Enigma cipher of the U- boats. Recuperating from a nervous crack-up, Tom has been summoned back to Bletchley in March 1943 after the Nazis suddenly change their cipher and plunge the code-breakers into blackout. A million tons of Allied shipping cross the Atlantic bringing vital supplies to Europe while wolf-packs of U-boats, guided by the German High Command, prowl in readiness. Jericho and his team, a tweedy lot of linguists, theoreticians and assorted eggheads, have four days to crack the new code, or else the convoy is, literally, dead in the water.
And talking of indecipherables, what exactly is that accent Dougray Scott attempts here? As far as I could tell, it starts out from Yorkshire, heads down south and dallies around before turning back in the direction of his native Scotland. A distracting medley, for sure, and within a film that purports to highlight the herculean struggles with language and the importance of precision, rather disappointing. In other respects the attention to detail is blameless, most notably in Scott's greasy hair (hot water and soap at a premium during wartime) and the look of near-permanent exhaustion of a code-breaker cogitating round the clock. As it turns out, it's not just overwork that has pushed Jericho to the edge - he's been through the mangle of an unhappy love affair. So besotted was he with the glamorous Claire (Saffron Burrows) that, when jilted, he risked spilling code-room secrets to win her back; now the woman has disappeared, the police are dragging the lake and Jericho faces the possibility that Bletchley has been harbouring a spy.
Intrigued? You might be, though Michael Apted's competent, foursquare direction never really sets the pulse racing. On the one hand, he tries to do justice to the formidable complexity of the task confronting Bletchley's cryptanalysts - roughly equivalent to searching for a needle in one of a million haystacks. And on the other, he needs to keep the thriller plot ticking over. Tom Stoppard's screenplay hasn't found a way around flatpacking information, so a minor character is occasionally obliged to start a speech with "Do you mean to say?" and then disgorge a load of facts that ends, lamely, on an interrogative. And while Jericho's affair is glancingly played out in flashback, the credibility of it is undermined by the casting of Burrows as the femme fatale; with her immaculately coiffed Rita Hayworth tresses, perfect skin and scarlet lipstick, she looks like she's just flown in from a beauty pageant, and the contrast with everyone else's pasty complexions and drab duds is far too severe.
The film is more confident with those characters who, oddly enough, seem most stereotypically British. Kate Winslet plays bespectacled, frumpy Hester Wallace, a plucky young gal whose know-how helps Jericho in the search for clues to his ex's sudden disappearance. As she also reminds him, the brainy men summoned to Bletchley all become cryptanalysts, but the brainy women, like her, have to make do as clerks and typists, their ambitions believed to reach no higher than their underwear ("Utility knickers - one Yank and they're off"). Similarly, the invisible bonds of the British class system hold firm within Bletchley, a truth made apparent to Jericho by the needling supervision of Wigram, a Special Intelligence spook and patrician of the old school. Jeremy Northam plays this character with the cold-eyed suavity of Cary Grant in Notorious; he's meant to be one of the good guys, yet his smirking condescension towards Jericho bristles with an almost Waugh-like hatred. (He stops just short of calling him an oik).
Northam is good in the role, and makes even the smoking of a cigarette seem an act of lordly disdain, yet the ripples of tension he stirs up - like much else in the film - go mostly to waste. Apted and his team have been painstaking in their reconstruction of wartime austerity, and you can almost smell the bad food and tobacco fug. But the problem of recasting the book's darkly introspective mood, and of getting the action out of doors, has in the end defeated them. There's a car chase down muddy country lanes, pursuit of a suspect on a train, and later a Buchan-ish drive up to Scotland (petrol rationing by now conveniently forgotten) where other cast members seem to have been hanging around till Jericho arrives, before carrying on with the plot.
If it were credible that our hero could turn from a neurotic maths whizz into a dashing Robert Donat type, that would be something; sadly, Scott has become so familiar in wan close-up or looking ill behind a desk that one almost forgets he has a pair of legs - the sight of him suddenly sprinting looks faintly absurd. You get the feeling that an awful lot of hard work has been put into Enigma, which makes its muffled, plodding quality as much a cause for puzzlement as regret.
Sept 28: Review from The Mirror:
Enigma rounds up this disappointing week and, although it's the best of the bunch, that isn't saying much. Based on the true story of the Nazis' Enigma code and the painstaking Allied attempts to crack it, this is part war-thriller, part romance-mystery and more than a little bit dated.
Dougray Scott plays the brilliant mathematician Tom Jericho, dumped fresh from Cambridge into Bletchley Park - the secret British wartime base for the essential codebreakers. A combination of a disastrous love affair with the beautiful and enigmatic Claire, and the intense mental pressure the codebreakers work under, causes Tom to have a breakdown. Upon his return he finds the Nazis might have a spy inside Bletchley, prime suspect Claire has disappeared and the largest supply convoy from America to the UK is under threat of U-boat attack.
Unless he can crack the new code then the war might well be lost. But can he do it while trying to track down his missing love, steering clear of the secret service man Wigram (Jeremy Northam), when the only person he has to rely on is Claire's flatmate, the frumpy but smart Hester (Kate Winslet)?
As thrillers go this is a bit of a dud. Dougray is very good as Tom, Kate is terrific as Hester and Jeremy Northam is, as ever, superb. But the script is surprisingly flat and lacking in wit or style, and the direction fails to really capitalize on the atmospheric surroundings of Bletchley Park or the tension of the real-life drama. All in all, a bit of a damp squib, and the presence of Saffron Burrows - possibly the least talented actress in films today - just helps to drag the whole thing down. A shame.
Sept 27: From the October issue of Film Review magazine:
Based on Robert Harris’s bestseller, Enigma’s blend of deduction, obsession and advanced algebra revolves around Bletchley Park, the HQ for thousand of linguists, electrical engineers, mathematicians and even crossword puzzle experts with one single goal - to monitor and decipher coded German messages. Set in 1943, it centres around Tom Jericho (a rough-looking Dougray Scott), Britain’s finest code-breaker, after enforced leave brought about by the mental exhaustion that followed a) his discovery of the key to decoding earlier German U-board transmissions and b) a doomed romance with enigmatic typist Claire (Burrows), who has subsequently disappeared.
Facing a desperate race against time to crack German’s reworked use of enigma cipher machines before vital shipping fleets are lost, his thoughts are plagued by memories of Claire and the discovery of stolen enigma-coded intercepts in her cottage leads him to an obsessive quest to establish if she was working for the enemy. With the aid of her colleague Hester (Winslet, given a dowdy ‘Famous Five’ make-over), they start to unravel a widening mystery that could affect the outcome of the war.
Though the term ‘old-fashioned’ is one of the most over-used in the critics’ lexicon, Enigma possesses no modern technical tricks or pretentions and evokes - with mixed success - the British espionage thrillers of the Thirties and Forties. Very much a film for grown-ups, Stoppard’s script isn’t afraid to risk confusion with reams of technical jargon and tantalizing flashback snippets that stop just short of actually explaining anything. But, in one of those cinematic poetic license deals, the closer Tom and Hester get to solving the puzzle, the less compelling the film becomes, with the second half becoming a fairly formulaic car-and-mouse game with shameless scene-stealer Jeremy Northam as an acerbically smooth secret service investigator. And when the explanation finally emerges, it’s mighty convoluted.
Despite not fully rewarding the required concentration from its audience, Enigma has impeccable period credentials, restrained direction from Michael Apted and a typically radiant turn from Winslet as the ‘Plain Jane’ blessed with an attractive mind. Scott does okay with his burnt-out boffin, though his multi-regioned accent is an enigma of its very own.
Jason Caro -- 3 out of five stars
Sept 27: From Teletext Cinema:
Review by Paul Arendt
It's about time that someone took the trouble to idolise the code-breakers of Bletchley Park on celluloid, particularly since revisionist trash like U-571 convinced half the world that the USA captured the Enigma machine. Shame it's such a dull movie. Somehow, the combined talents of Tom Stoppard (script) Robert Harris, Michael Apted (direction) and a classy cast have collectively produced little more than an insipid costume flick - Merchant Ivory does John Buchan.
The plot is an extremely convoluted affair involving a disgraced code-breaking genius (Dougray Scott) and his obsession with the disappearance of his former lover Claire, (Saffron Burrows), who may or may not have been a spy. Claire's mousey flatmate Hester (Winslet) is reluctantly involved in the mystery, and there's an oily secret service agent (Jeremy Northam, auditioning for Bond again) creeping around the sidelines.
All this murder mystery stuff is elegantly entwined with the considerably more important problem of cracking the Germans' latest code. Strangely enough it is with these dry-as-dust mathematical conundrums that the Apted/Stoppard team takes brief flight. In the movie's one thrilling scene, the boffins use a U-boat attack on a British convoy to pick up clues for the new code. We see little of the action on the water, just the taut faces of these clever misfits who hold the fate of thousands in their equations.
Dougray Scott's haunted mathematician is a hard character to root for. There's nothing wrong with a tormented hero, of course, but Scott is so relentlessly red-eyed and grim you start wishing Hester would just give him a hefty slap.
Winslet, dowdied down in horn-rims and a succession of disgusting frocks, assays the jolly-hockey-sticks pragmatism of Hester with undisguised glee, and single-handedly keeps the movie running. Unfortunately, her sterling work almost overbalances the plot into Jane Austen territory. Why on Earth is silly Dougray pining for the glacial (and skinny) Miss Burrows, when he's got the considerable charms of Hester right in front of his nose?
It all gets a bit silly in the end. Desperate to get away from cosy Bletchley, the film contrives a series of reversals that culminate with gunfights, aeroplanes and a U-boat. It's as jarring as Emma Thompson whipping an Uzi from her corsets.
2 stars out of 5 ("OK")
Sept 27: From The Scotsman:
Romance -- Enigma (15)
Robert Harris’s atmospheric and perceptive war-time thriller is a successful blend of love and suspense, writes John Marriott
Sept 27: From the Evening Standard:
Review by Alexander Walker
Code-breakers, like actors, are practised dissemblers. All the main characters in Enigma, the film of Robert Harris's suspense thriller, directed by Michael Apted and produced by Lorne Michaels and Mick Jagger (yes, that one), are concealing a secret (or two). Decoding motives as well as messages is the problem. Screenwriter Tom Stoppard cracks them open with style, subtlety and surprise. Brainwork is what the cinema seldom offers. Action, yes; Enigma has that, too, but it holds it in reserve for a heart-pounding ending, then brings it up to a pitch that would make Hitchcock purr. But this story's dramatic lifeblood is cerebration: intelligence, both official and commonplace.
It's an impatient film-goer who won't be hooked by the trail of detection, treachery and double (or treble) dealing that Apted lays down so intricately among the codebreakers at the famous, but, in 1943, still ultrasecret Bletchley Park. The clues start even before the credits roll. A blonde in an elegant fur wrap strolls across peacetime Trafalgar Square; a steam train thunders down the line; a German U-boat surfaces like a shark's fin; a human hand, black as a tree root, sticks out of the earth; a chap taps a pencil ... meditatively. Retrospectively, you realise all these random images are the jigsaw pieces of a plot that fit together like the rotor wheels on the captured German encoding machine that supplies the film's title and eventually reveals a secret wrapped in a riddle within a mystery.
Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott), a workingclass boy and an ace mathematician who solves Times crosswords off the cuff, returns from sick leave to the codebreakers' HQ, a red Victorian hulk hemmed in by Nissen huts whose shutters go up at blackout time and seal their classified secrets in with their owners. You see immediately the care lavished on recreating this hermetic community - ultimately 12,000 strong - of oddballs, bureaucrats, martinets, rulebreakers and geniuses, governed by oaths of official silence, private rivalries and personal antagonisms. The atmosphere is broody. The Germans have just changed their encryption codes. Unless Jericho and co can decipher the new multi-million variations - and quickly - Allied convoys already in mid-Atlantic will hit the bottom. Tempers fray. Corin Redgrave's visiting admiral bawls out a Navy codebreaker for slack dress, and gets a paw-like salute, more dismissive than disciplined: mavericks rule here, in tweedy jackets, on push bikes, lax in manners but razorbrained in ratiocination.
Blimps-versus-brainboxes forms a seriocomic overture to a plot that gradually darkens with the tensions of mutual mistrust among the boffins. One of them, a cipher clerk named Claire (Saffron Burrows), with whom Scott had the stormy affair that triggered his emotional breakdown, has gone absent just as the Germans switch ciphers. Is it coincidence or connivance? Has the silly girl met another man? Or has she gone over to the enemy? With the help of Claire's bluestocking room-mate, the frumpish, speccy Hester (Kate Winslet, raising dowdiness to convincing concern for her best friend), Jericho tries to solve her disappearance.
Wasting not a minute, but flashing backwards and forwards in place and time, Stoppard's brilliant screenplay runs the human puzzle of the missing girl's real relationships in tandem with the professional enigma of cracking the German codes. One solution unlocks the other. And ultimately the confluence of secrets creates a tidal tension, ebbing and flowing, on which we drift, sometimes a little baffled, but generally in the certainty that this clever film will explain all yet preserve a few human conundrums to enhance our pleasure with guesswork.
A movie doesn't often entice you to leave with such teasing souvenirs. As well as a patriotic pulse-beat, Enigma has a Proustian feel to it. Claire, an eye-dazzling blanc-de-blanc blonde, with red-lipped smile and dressed in bright primary colours, is seen only in the flashbacks of Jericho's memory. She thus acquires a tantalisingly spectre-like quality that gives the hard grind of decipherment its softer, emotional resonances.
And then there's Wigram. Played by Jeremy Northam, looking more than ever like the young Laurence Olivier, this upper-crust MI5 man mixes grit and oil together in an abrasively taunting performance. Without Northam, the story might droop under its own complexity. He puts steel into it, gives it a ruthless infrastructure in which class, cynicism and menace are deployed to entrap the guilty, or simply intimidate his inferiors. In his Savile Row suitings, with a manner both droll and devious, Wigram stands for the outsider's - and indeed England's - suspicion of intellectuals down the ages. He also personifies the upper hand of the upper classes. He knows how to charm in order to get under someone's guard. "Ovaltine!" he coos, as if it were a vintage claret, not a bedtime beverage, that Hester's landlady is offering him while he snoops around. Yet when he gives Jericho a going over, searching the man's pockets and mind, pressing on the shame of his nervous breakdown ("When you fell out of your pramî), you are left in no doubt that you're witnessing the dressing-down of a social inferior.
Stoppard, possessing the sharp ear for English and its uses that his own Czech origins gifted him with, makes Wigram the most engrossing and fully developed figure in the film. We know where he's coming from; and Northam knows, too. It's not just the character he plays, but the man. Yet Wigram, too, has his vulnerable secret which, when revealed, puts a whole new gloss on the near-incestuous relationships of Tom, Claire, Hester and others in the plot too important to be named by me.
You'll gather I enjoyed Enigma intensely. It made me realise the months that have dragged by this year since a pure-bred British film - though one financed by Dutch and German coin - has taken a generous measure of an audience's intelligence and used it to stiffen its own self-confidence and prove that entertainment gives pleasure to the mind, not just the viscera. Some critics may still take it to task for the sequences when the plot puts its foot on the action pedal: like the car chase through English lanes, or the air-sea-and-land climax on a Scottish loch that John Buchan might have imagined. Given Apted's aptitude for docudrama, not spectacle, such thrills may seem to violate the grip of the grey matter with their blood-and-thunder escapism. They don't. They ventilate the cloistered labyrinth of Stoppard's (and Harris's) story. Seldom have I been so fascinated by a view of one of Britain's wartime achievements - our cinema has neglected others, allowing Hollywood to steal, traduce and fictionalise some of our finest hours for its own gung-ho glory.
Sept 27: From the Times:
Film Choice, By Kathleen Wyatt
It is the height of the Second World War and the code-breakers holed up in Bletchley Park are feverishly cracking the cryptic messages being relayed by the German fleet. Suddenly, the Germans change the settings of their Enigma encoding machine so that the code-breakers have to start all over again.
It is at this point that this fictionalised account of how the Enigma code was broken takes over from the historical one. In case number-crunching might be too dull a subject, the action is made more thrilling by turning the best code-cracker (Scott) into a troubled heart-throb who is not only on the run from the police but also has the fate of several nations in his hands. He teams up with an intrepid sleuth (Winslet on sparkling form) in a bid to thwart the enemy.
Hampering their progress, however, is a suave, unbelievably inept secret service agent (Northam), and a mysterious femme fatale (Burrows, deeply irritating due to her maladroit and flimsy performance).
Nevertheless, the code-breaking scenes are enthralling, and if you can forgive the otherwise preposterous plot, the film makes for an entertaining thriller.
Sept 27: From The Times:
Films of the Week, By Barbara Ellen
West End; 15, 119 mins
There is something of the dunked digestive, something incredibly comforting and quintessentially British, about Michael Apted’s Second World War thriller Enigma. Adapted from the novel by Robert Harris, with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard, it is set among the real-life code-breakers who used the Nazis’ own Enigma machine to decipher Germany’s signals to its U-boats and save Allied lives at sea.
And, for the most part, Enigma is what you’d expect from a teaming of talents such as these - an intelligently executed, coldly precise, brains-before-brawn portrayal of those whose mathematical prowess helped to win the war for Britain.
Then there is the other side of Enigma, which whirls with passion, murder, femmes fatales and espionage, where desire and heartbreak drive a shy young man insane. No comforting dunked digestives here, just our old friend human frailty again.
Dougray Scott plays Tom, a maverick mathematical genius who spends the movie shuffling around in weedy ties, greying cuffs and a long, dirty-looking coat, which instantly makes one think of stale tobacco and used handkerchiefs. Ration-book glamour if ever you saw it.
After suffering a breakdown, and not without opposition from his superiors, Tom returns to work as a code-breaker. He is also looking for the blonde temptress he loved and lost (an exquisitely distant Saffron Burrows), and whom he now believes to have betrayed secrets to the enemy. Kate Winslet plays Hester, the plucky Plain Jane who tries to help him. For Winslet’s look, think Olive from On the Buses meets speccy Thelma from Scooby Doo, with a few honest bruises from hockey thrown in. With a dogged spy-catcher on their tail (a show-stealingly supercilious turn from Jeremy Northam), they must cherchez la femme and discover her contact, as well as crack the code in order to save British lives.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Enigma. It has faults galore, not least that the slow pace makes you want to fidget. Moreover, ironically, considering the real-life rumours, the on-screen romance between Scott and Winslet never seems credible - they exude all the sexual chemistry of a Famous Five adventure. Indeed, the female characters in the movie seem to be either flat-footed ciphers of sexless decency (Winslet) or stilletto-tapping carnality (Burrows), a madonna-whore mix which seems over-rich for the carefully precise script.
Then there is the writerly "splinter of ice" at the heart of the movie, which deters one from engaging with the characters completely, leaving you happy to follow their story but disinclined to follow them into Hell. But if one must blame Apted and Stoppard for that, one must also credit them with delivering a tale which sups from the same clear narrative water as the great Second World War movies, when clear-cut characterisation, highwire plotting and no-padding-no-fuss suspense were taken for granted.
With Enigma restraint, a cerebral muffling of visual and emotional ostentation, is everything. When Stoppard is required to produce a scene in which ships are attacked by submarines on a stormy sea, you can almost imagine him licking his pencil and wondering how to do it with the minimum of low-brow gore and unpleasantness. (Which, given the current climate, comes as a relief.) Similarly, when Apted films a love scene for the two leads, he allows them merely strained half-smiles, cordial dialogue, and Winslet’s glasses to steam up a bit.
All of which serves to keep the bulk of our attention fastened firmly on the story, where nothing is found wanting, and even the obligatory plot-twist is agreeable. Moreover, visually and stylistically, Enigma is stunning, but not in an obvious, hackneyed, Merchant-Ivory way. Britain is revealed at its most shabby, old-fashioned and sad-beautiful. Fields are muddy, walls need painting, bed sheets are striped and bobbled, tea steams and slops into saucers, wooden sticks are pointed at maps, chairs are tatty, everyone looks like the weather has turned a bit "parky".
It may be a sign of the times that, while it’s illogical to be nostalgic for a time, a war, a Britishness you never knew, with Enigma you almost manage it.
Sept 27: From the Financial Times:
THE ARTS: Enigma gets the message across
CINEMA: You can smell the boiled cabbage in this finely shaded portrait of wartime Britain, writes Martin Hoyle
How does the human competition stand up? In Enigma, not too badly. Michael Apted fleshes out Robert Harris's best-seller with intelligent casting and an almost overpowering sense of period. The story of Bletchley Park's top-secret code-breaking enterprise in the second world war is still emerging piecemeal: a gathering of boffins and brainboxes, other-worldly intellectuals from academe mixed with whizzkids with varied backgrounds and political views... The historical Alan Turing was one such misfit, committing suicide after having done the state incalculable service rather than face legal proceedings for homosexual behaviour. He ate an apple injected with cyanide; Apple Mackintosh's logo is a conscious tribute to one of the fathers of modern computing.
Harris's novel took Bletchley Park as the historical background for an espionage thriller; and thereby hangs the film's weakness. The sheer mechanics of cracking the Nazis' code is so fascinating (when comprehensible), and the gathering of brilliant oddballs so intriguingly depicted, that you long for a more documentary approach - tantalisingly something the accomplished TV docu-maker Apted could have managed. Instead the story moves into John Buchan territory, complete with a breakneck journey north to Scotland. Tom Stoppard's credit as writer seems almost irrelevant - unless, of course, the sleight-of-hand technical jargon which makes you believe you can understand the Enigma machine at the time is part of his cleverness.
There are compensations. Costumes (Shirley Russell) and hair and make-up (Jenny Shircore) deserve awards for sheer period rightness; John Beard's production design conjures the ill-lit dinginess of Britain under siege (you can almost smell the boiled cabbage and damp); and, most important, the fine shadings between the classes are scrupulously observed - from Dougray Scott's gauche genius shambling, ungainly and bloody-minded, through a sometimes resentful establishment, to Jeremy Northam's intelligence smoothie, so immaculately upper that you wonder if this isn't bluff, via Kate Winslet's sturdy middle-middle-class pluck and gumption. Winslet's flashy Hollywood outings tend to obscure the unflagging intelligence and integrity of her acting talents; just as, incidentally, Mick Jagger's role as producer may distract from a well made and seriously intentioned entertainment.
There are unexpectedly moving moments: the battle of the Atlantic observed by dog-tired backroom boys racing against time as the sharks pick off helpless Allied supplies; the young woman, a cog in the whole, mysterious characteristically British muddle, trustingly asking whether "bleep bloody bleep" can be translated and is really important and returning, happily reassured, to the drudgery on which survival depends. In retrospect, Enigma grows on you.
Sept 25: From the Daily Mail:
Review by Christopher Tookey
Enigma is a welcome surprise to those of us who have grown resigned to the British being airbrushed out of World War II history by Hollywood. Here's a new film which - wonder of wonders - shows our previously uncelebrated men and women at Bletchley Park breaking German codes, saving countless lives and helping to win the War.
And who is the British patriot putting this story on the screen? Why, it's none other than Mick Jagger, for this is the first film to go before the cameras of his company, Jagged Films. Jagger appears as an RAF officer, though if you blink you'll miss him.
Tom Stoppard's screenplay is a pretty faithful translation of Robert Harris's bestseller about brilliant mathematician Tom Jericho (played by Dougray Scott) who returns to Bletchley Park to break a new code and discover the mole who has tipped off the Germans that their old one had been broken.
To add to the tension, Jericho - a Forties equivalent of a computer hacker - is suspected of being the spy himself. He in turn suspects his former girlfriend (Saffron Burrows), who has disappeared after giving him an emotional breakdown. As if that wasn't enough to cope with, Jericho finds himself in a potential love triangle, as he realises that his old flame's frumpy housemate, Hester (Kate Winslet), is the love of his life.
You can almost smell the pipe tobacco and unwashed socks in the room where the assorted boffins congregate to crack the codes. Mike Apted is on top form directing these scenes.
Kate Winslet is delightful as a plain but indefatigable young woman pleasantly surprised at any man taking a romantic interest in her. It's also good to see a thoroughly middle-class, competent British heroine of the sort that you might actually come across in real life.
Jeremy Northam is great fun as a supercilious spy-catcher, who trusts nobody and especially doesn't care for anyone who is a lot cleverer than he is.
While Dougray Scott's designer stubble has a distracting habit of disappearing within scenes, he lends a saturnine, troubled presence to the leading role.
It is a considerable weakness that Saffron Burrows, though beautiful, has a terribly dull, monotonous voice and doesn't suggest the depth of femme fatality that her character needs.
Younger audiences brought up on non-stop action may find the attention to character and mood old-fashioned, though the gentle pace does give its own period charm. A more serious charge is that the generally light-hearted feel detracts from the darkest, more angst-ridden moments.
Apted seems unsure whether to make this a romantic yarn in the tradition of The Thirty-Nine Steps or an altogether darker psychological thriller, like The Third Man. He settles mostly for the former, but Enigma might have been a bit more thrilling if he'd done more to evoke the latter.
Sept 25: From The Independent:
First Night: Two riddles wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a codebreaking thriller inside ‘Enigma'
Odeon, Leicester Square, London
By Geoffrey MacNab
Apted, the film's director, and his cinematographer, Seamus McGarvey, have aimed for a desaturated look. The only splashes of colour are provided by the femme fatale Claire (Saffron Burrows), who has hair like Rita Hayworth in Gilda and a penchant for wearing violently red lipstick.
Mick Jagger's co-producer on the film, Lorne Michaels, has characterised it as a "hacker wins World War Two" yarn, but Enigma is not to be mistaken for a teen flick. The egghead protagonist, Tom Jericho (played with Eeyore-like gloom by Dougray Scott), spends much of the film trying to decipher Germany's new "Enigma" codes. He's a nervous presence, lacking the gumption of his endlessly enthusiastic accomplice, Hester (Kate Winslet in Joyce Grenfell mode.)
The fascination of the film lies in the ambivalence of its attitude toward wartime Britain. At its most nostalgic, the film seems like a wartime flagwaver made half a century too late - but if Apted celebrates the best of British, he also shows the worst.
As Robert Harris noted in his 1995 novel, Enigma (from which the film is adapted), Bletchley Park - the wartime codebreaking centre in Buckinghamshire, where most of the movie's action is set - was "a paradigm of the English class system". It is represented as a hive of voyeurism, eavesdropping and bureaucracy. Snobbery and sexism are rife. The Secret Service, as embodied by Jeremy Northam's sleek, cynical agent, Wigram, is as careless about human life as the Nazis.
Tom Stoppard's screenplay deftly interweaves the two "enigmas" of the story - the signals that Jericho must try to decode, and the mysterious fate of Claire, who seemingly abandons him after a brief affair and may have gone over to the enemy. As he rifles through her underwear drawer, however, sexual jealousy is what seems to be driving him rather than patriotism.
Apted's last feature, The World Is Not Enough, grossed more than $300m. Enigma has little chance of managing the same, but, in its own way, it is a much better movie. A triumph for the British film industry? Not exactly: there's not a penny of British money in it. The film owes its existence to Dutch tax breaks and big-pocketed German backers. As Apted lamented: "Here's a film about England beating Germany in the war - and Germany paid for it."
Ross and Ronay at the Movies
Enigma’s a Perfect Mystery
ROSS: This is as stodgy as Sunday lunch round your granny's. The action's as exciting as her over-boiled brussels sprouts. And the romance is as soggy as a half-cooked Yorkshire pud.
This would have been a cracking six one-hour episodes on telly, a compelling and convoluted sort-of true story for fans of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. You need space to tell a story this complex - about brilliant maths bods battling to unpick the Germans' brainbusting Enigma code. Cramming it into a couple of hours is criminal - it doesn't do justice to the cracking Robert Harris novel it's based on, nor does it give screen writer Tom Stoppard room to work.
There are some superb sequences that show us what we're missing, especially when the super-swots are racing against time to work out the latest German key to the overall code. But there are too many moments when the film-makers lose faith in the thrilling intellectual action and shoe-horn in sad car-chases and some dull running from one end of a train to another.
Still, most of the cast are excellent. Jeremy Northam as super-slimy secret serviceman Wigram must be in line for a best supporting Oscar, and Dougray Scott as Tom Jericho, the code-busting genius, is also jolly fine. Sadly director Michael Apted slipped up with Kate Winslet's wardrobe. Granny may not be much to look at now but she was a fox in her sexy forties fashions. So how come curvy Kate has to shlump around like a cross between Nora Batty and Les Dawson in drag?
All in all, this is a disappointment. Not a disaster by any means, but certainly a wasted opportunity.
Ross rates the film 2 out of 5 bottles - ‘a bit flat’
RONAY: We all love World War II dramas and this - the first film from Mick Jagger's production company Jagged Films - is a fine example. It's like the classic thrillers of old, with a slow start that establishes all the characters and their roles, speeding up to what becomes a fascinating and engrossing race against time. Set among the huts of Bletchley Park, the heroic code-breakers spend agonising hours trying to unravel the messages sent from the Nazi U-boats on their Enigma machines.
Dougray Scott plays the sexily brooding Jericho, the brilliant code-breaker who has recently suffered a breakdown due to his obsession with Claire, played by the dazzling Saffron Burrows.
Luckily it's not all spy gobbledegook, and soon turns into a murder mystery with an unexpected dollop of romance in the shape of Kate Winslet. Despite being heavily preggers in real life, Winslet shines through in her role as Hester, Claire's dumpy flat-mate who joins Jericho - and warms to him romantically - in his search for Claire after she goes missing from the Park.
This is when it all starts to hot up. It's like Cluedo crossed with the Famous Five as we start to unravel the mysteries that connect the disappearance and the codes. Some of the story is told through flashbacks, which are always less involving and a touch Agatha Christie. But the fascinating plot is reassuringly old-fashioned.
With a cracking score by John Barry, brilliant screenplay by Tom Stoppard, and clever direction from Michael Apted, there are many reasons to see this intriguing thriller.
It certainly kept me glued to my seat.
Ronay gives Enigma 4 out of 5 ‘smacks’ - ‘f-lipping good’
Thanks to my pal Sylvia of Dougray Scott in Focus for the tip on the above review.
Sept 23: From Scotland on Sunday:
Film Choice, By Richard Jobson
A Bit of a Puzzle
Enigma is an old-fashioned British thriller about the struggle to decode German command messages during the Second World War. But despite its rich detail the film feels like a piece of ancient history rather than an adventure story in its own right.
Sept 14: From Exclaim:
Enigma, Toronto International Film Festival 2001
By Rob Ferraz
new spy thriller/romance from Michael Apted ("The World Is Not
Enough," "Gorillas In The Mist") manages to make
compelling viewing out of a love affair between a mathematician and a
file clerk. Based on the novel by Robert Harris and set against the
backdrop of World War Two, "Enigma" follows the story of
British code breaker who must figure out the Nazi's naval code in order
to save a huge convoy of supply ships, while dealing with rejection from
a woman with whom he has fallen in love.
Sept 2: Garth Pearce of the UK Sunday Times has recorded his thoughts of Enigma in a feature on producer Mick Jagger:
A film faithful to our wartime heroism?
...It's all thanks to Mick Jagger, reports Garth Pearce, who snubbed Hollywood and chose an all-British team to make Enigma
Mick Jagger is the king of rock'n'roll survivors. No star has been doing it longer or louder. He is the biggest rebel, the beast of the music jungle, the man who won't grow up. But how about this for a shock? At 58, the man who once declared he was Jumping Jack Flash has come out as a true-blue patriot, the producer of a film, Enigma, that gives no quarter to Hollywood's love of hijacking stories of British heroism and rewriting them to glorify America.
For six years, Jagger resisted pressure from the big film studios to let them make Enigma, based on the true story of Britain's triumph in breaking the codes of Nazi Germany's high command. Instead, he has finally got the film made in England, set in a Brylcreemed age when honour mattered, with a line-up of some of our own leading actors, such as Kate Winslet, Dougray Scott and Jeremy Northam.
"I was told I would get the film made immediately if I changed it to an American story," says Jagger. "But how could you transplant this to somewhere like Philadelphia? It would have been a joke." Anything is possible, of course. Last year, Hollywood produced a successful film, U-571, in which the capture of an Enigma machine by HMS Aubretia on May 9, 1941 - before America entered the war - was rewritten as a triumph for the US Navy, with the hunky Texan Matthew McConaughey as the intrepid captain of the rescuing team.
"I am not against artistic licence, but let's stick to some facts," snorts Jagger dismissively. "I have always been surprised how regularly we have given away our history, only for American film-makers to claim it as their own. After that, it seems to become truth. People remember what they've seen at the movies, rather than what they read in books. I was determined, from the start, that this would not happen with Enigma."
This is Jagger's debut film as a producer, through his company, Jagged Films, which bought the rights to the Robert Harris bestseller set among the code and cipher experts at Bletchley Park, Bucks - Britain's top-secret Station X. "The story is set in 1943, the year I was born," Jagger says. "The Official Secrets Act made sure nobody knew about the codebreakers' work until the 1970s. I had not known anything about it until I read the book. It was one of the last secrets of the war, which I found fascinating. It was worth the effort to get it made, but it has dominated so much of my life."
That life does not seem to have slowed in the process. His latest ex-girlfriend, Sophie Dahl, 24, is almost young enough to be his granddaughter. He's been preparing for the Rolling Stones' 40th anniversary next year with an ambitious world tour. He's been caught up in the maze of settling financial obligations to ex-wives, girlfriends and children. And he's been in the recording studio, putting down tracks for his latest solo album, which will include his first duet since his 1985 No 1 with David Bowie, Dancing in the Street, this time with U2's frontman, Bono.
But when we met, the only tracks that concerned him lay underneath an old- fashioned steam train as it rolled into sidings in the heart of the Leicestershire countryside. The only women were extras with hair teased into 1940s fashions, looking dumpy beneath heavy wartime clothes in unflattering brown and dark green. For once, he looked his age, in a cable-knit petrol-blue jumper and sports jacket, and there was no street-smart talk or mockney accent. He has allowed the grey to emerge in his trademark mop; and, close to, without stage make-up or the careful lighting of a photographic studio, you can see deep lines etched into his face, as if the strains of staying so thin for so long have taken their toll.
Vanity did kick in at one point, when he wanted to phone his personal publicist to check on whether he should talk at all. Someone tactfully pointed out that this was not 1966 any more, and he was a couple of years short of his 60th birthday. He was also a film producer, and could make decisions for himself. Once that was over, he seemed far more relaxed in his new role as a rebel with a cause.
"It's all been a bit knackering," he admits. "A film never stops. There is still the editing, the music and the marketing to go, even when we finish here. There's also the question: what next? I have more to buy, more things I've written, outlines of stories, and I don't know what is going to be first. I am just in the middle of trying to option a bestseller. I sometimes wonder why I'm working so hard to do it all."
Why indeed? "I was not exactly talked into starting a film company, but so many people said I should," he says. "I've acted in a few films, and I have been interested since the days when I went to college film clubs. But if I had been left to my own devices, it would never have happened. Although I am hard-working, I am also slightly lazy, which I have constantly had to fight against. So, I would have said: 'Sounds good - but I can't be bothered.'
"Eventually, I was sitting around in LA and one of these guys in the movie business offered me a deal. I thought: 'It seems fated that I should get involved.'" Then pride took over. He bought the rights to the Harris book and hired Tom Stoppard, who won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love, to fashion a script, and Michael Apted, fresh from making the last Bond film, The World Is Not Enough, as director. He also talked himself to a standstill.
"My name may be enough for people to take a phone call from me - but it won't make the deal work," he says. "I kept coming up against the American side of things. I can understand why so many scripts end up being told from their angle, because the pressure and temptations can be so great. Fortunately, I could afford to hold out. I don't need to worry about paying the rent."
He also wanted to stick with the leading man he had personally selected. "If the Americans were doing this, they would have some great-looking hero figure as the lead," he says. "I am not saying Dougray Scott is not good-looking, but he has to play a fairly weedy-looking maths genius. He lost more than 20lb for the part, and was prepared to look as if he lived his life through figures on a page. I knew him from Ever After [he played the prince to Drew Barrymore's Cinderella], because my kids dragged me along. I also saw him play the muscle-bound villain in Mission Impossible 2, in which he was great. But this is the hallmark of good-quality British actors - they can play anyone and anything."
Enigma faithfully follows the Harris mixture of fiction and fact. The facts include the work at Bletchley itself, opened by the government amid much secrecy in 1938, a year before the war: 12,000 people would be employed there. The Enigma machine was the main coding device used by the German armed forces and rail system. They never discovered that, after a machine was captured from a U-boat by the British, a vast team of math- ematicians, linguists, electrical engineers and intelligence specialists at Bletchley managed to break the codes. Their work was used to help shorten the war by many months.
Enigma (both novel and film) takes this backdrop and gives it the fictional spin of a crisis for the Bletchley team: an unexpected change by Nazi U-boats of the code by which they communicate with each other and German high command. A merchant-shipping convoy from America, crossing the Atlantic with 10,000 passengers and vital supplies, is in danger of attack. The authorities turn for help to the one man who can save them: Tom Jericho (Scott), a brilliant but flawed mathematician.
He is brought back to Bletchley despite having had a nervous breakdown following a broken love affair with the beautiful Claire (Saffron Burrows), who has disappeared at the very point there have been fears of a spy at work at the Park. To try to solve both mysteries, Jericho enlists the help of the plain Hester (Kate Winslet), Claire's best friend. Together, they keep one step ahead of the secret services as they investigate Claire's mysterious life, an international cover-up and betrayal.
Although unlikely to be a blockbuster hit, it is an absorbing film, immaculately acted, and one that delivers an authentic story through the cobwebs of time. And it is clear that Jagger's commitment earned admirers. The director, Apted, says: "He has not sold this story down the river, which would have been very easy to do. As a result, I was not subjected to studio interference, along the lines of them ordering script rewrites, recasting or scenes being reshot. I could just get on with it."
Dougray Scott was handed the same luxury, and wasted no time in preparing for the role. He went on a cabbage-soup diet to trim the weight, and started to think how he would play a mathematical nerd. "Jericho does not care about his appearance," he says. "So I had wardrobe put holes in his trousers and button things up not quite right. The character's father died when he was six, so I thought he would have kept his father's battered trilby. I carry it around all the time, not to wear, but to use as a comfort, because he's such a nervous character."
Such attention to detail wins approval from Jagger. "I believe in British films and British talent," he says. "It is no secret that we've had some of the best technicians and film crews for years. We are getting a crop of strong young actors coming through who are acceptable to Americans and American audiences. I am not against having an American actor in any future film, as long as they are good. Where it goes wrong is having to employ an American who is no good just to keep the financiers happy. I wished I could have made just one phone call and done the whole deal, but I couldn't."
He could have made one call, of course: to his own bank manager. But Jagger, canny as ever, would not be drawn on putting in money from his reputed £150m fortune. The finance for Enigma's £17.8m budget eventually came from a mixture of Dutch, British and - ironically - German sources. "I put in seed money, but not heavy stuff," he says, slightly awkwardly. "It is an absolute rule."
Perhaps he is more sensitive to finances than usual, having, in 1999, signed away his mansion in Richmond, Surrey, to Jerry Hall after their final break-up. She also took £7m and receives a monthly maintenance payment. So, what next? Will he return to the Venezuelan Vanessa Neumann (known as "The Cracker from Caracas")? Or to the socialite and novelist Ortensia Visconti? And what about the models Carla Bruni and Jana Rajlich?
"I make it a rule these days to keep my mouth shut on such things," says Jagger, with a thin smile. Besides, compared to Enigma, none of it matters. Does it?"
Enigma is released on September 28
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