An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Enigma (2001)
- Credit: Archant
With blockbusters clammering for our attention at every turn it’s easy for some of the smaller, quirkier films to slip passed, unnoticed. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies, both old and new, that may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.
Enigma, dir: Michael Apted, starring: Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam, Saffron Burrows, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Tom Hollander, Donald Sumpter, Matthew MacFayden. Cert: 15
After the travesty of the movie U-571, released in 2000, in which Matthew McConaughay helped a team of US sailors to rewrite history and capture the Germans fiendishly clever Enigma coding device, along came British Bond director Michael Apted and theatre playwright Tom Stoppard to set the record straight.
Whereas the erroneous Hollywood version of the story was one of action and derring-do on the high seas, Enigma was an atmospheric suspense story, a mystery set in the tense, highly secretive world of Bletchley Park, Britain’s code-breaking nerve centre.
For the most part the movie plays out like a murder mystery. A young female codebreaker goes missing – is it murder or is it abduction? MI5 are called in to investigate and the film starts to play out like a police procedural drama but the wartime setting makes the stakes much higher.
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Could this missing woman be part of a larger plot which could compromise not only the existence of Bletchley Park itself but also the fact that the British are on the cusp of breaking the Enigma code?
Stoppard is a great story teller and Michael Apted is a man who knows how to pile on the tension while not giving too much away.
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This is a film which is about atmosphere and suspense as much as it is about war-time heroics. Apted makes the audience do most of the work through the power of suggestion while Stoppard litters the story with false leads and red herrings.
Saffron Burrows plays Claire Romilly, the missing woman who see in flashback. We also see she is a flirtatious, fun individual who has driven haunted maths genius Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott) to a nervous breakdown.
Jericho is recalled to Bletchley when the Germans change the Enigma code again and the allies need a new reliable way of reading the enemy transmission. Upon his return he finds that his former girlfriend has gone missing and her housemate Hester Wallace (Kate Winslet) is increasingly concerned for welfare.
As Tom and Hester start investigating Claire’s last movements they become aware of Jeremy Northam’s shadowy figure lurking around the corridors of Bletchley Park. Working for MI5, he seems to have taken a dislike to Tom and suspects that his mental instability may be a security risk. He also suspects that Claire may be a spy or if in the hands of enemy agents may compromise British intelligence operations.
It’s a movie which keeps you on the edge of your seat while giving you a glimpse of how difficult the codebreakers work was and what sacrifices were required in order to test their theories. Some lives were lost to ensure that many others survived.
As you would expect with a Tom Stoppard script, the dialogue is sharp and sparkling while Apted keeps the energy high. The cast are uniformly superb. Kate Winslet and Dougray Scott carry the bulk of the film but the extensive and memorable supporting cast add a huge amount to the overall feel. But, what really makes this film a winner and makes it a worthy re-watch movie is the attention to detail and the unsettling atmosphere which pervades the whole film.
This is a war film that feels like a thriller but looks as if it was really shot during the early 1940s. One to watch.