Operation Mincemeat is a Netflix film based on a true story and the real World War II military operation from which the film takes its name. While the film is based on historical accounts, some characters and details are fictitious.
Director John Madden told the LA Times that relying only on known historical facts would leave gaps in the story.
“The story is about speculation,” Madden told the newspaper. “That’s what a spy story is about. It’s all about guesswork. It’s about hunches. It’s about filling in the gaps. That’s it [the officers] do with the fiction they create in the story and hope there aren’t any gaps. But of course you have to guess, even if you’ve covered every single base. The story is about the creation of a fiction, [and] We have created our own fiction of this series of events, which themselves are not entirely definitive. Because there comes a point where you can’t get any further with historical research and you just have to speculate.”
Here’s what you need to know about the real story behind Operation Mincemeat:
Added human elements to the historical account to embellish the story and backstory of Glyndwr Michael
Many of the moments the Netflix film strayed from the truth were times when the showrunners wanted to convey the human elements behind the story. Some of the embellishments were speculation, others pure conjuration, Madden told the LA Times. But he said that relying entirely on historical narrative would have made for a highly technical film.
Among the additions was the fictional sister of Glyndwr Michael. In the film, she is told of her brother’s death, but no siblings appear in the historical account. Writer Michelle Ashford added the sister to convey the humanity of Michael and to emphasize that he was a real person, not a prop in a storyline.
“[It was important] really trying to find the disorder of war in film,” Ashford told the LA Times. “The fact that they have to do this, but there are consequences if you just steal a person and stuff them in a life jacket and throw them in the water. I loved that part of the story because I found it intricate, poignant, and curious. The emerging sister was a fictionalized element of the story. But he had a family somewhere. So, to make that person appear [is] representative of the fact that this guy came from somewhere.”
Michael was buried with military honors as Maj. William Martin. It wasn’t until 1996 that his true identity was revealed, and in 1998 an inscription was placed on his tombstone. In Montagu’s book The Man Who Never Was, he says Michael died of pneumonia and the government gave permission to use the body.
The LA Times reported that officials worked with coroner Bentley Purchase and retrieved the body from a morgue, according to Ben Macintyre, who wrote the book that served as the basis for the film Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story That Changed the Course of Second World War.”
“Basically, they just lifted the body. They believed that no one would claim it. They believed he had no family. They were wrong about that. They just figured they could get away with stealing the body. It’s that simple,” Macintyre told the LA Times. “The whole thing is macabre and absurd. But one of the reasons I think the film works so well is that there’s a kind of absurd element in it. And that’s very lifelike. Because the reality is that Montagu and Cholmondeley and the other people involved were fully aware that there was something ridiculous about what they were doing, which adds a lot of tension to the film.”
Operation Mincemeat was inspired by the trout memo written by James Bond author Ian Fleming
The inspiration for the military operation came from Ian Fleming, according to the LA Times. At this time Fleming was assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence, Admiral Sir John Godfrey. Fleming would later write the James Bond novels.
Madden told the LA Times that Fleming’s involvement in the conspiracy was an extraordinary find. Godfrey, who would serve as the inspiration for “M” in the James Bond story, and Fleming wrote the Trout Memo, which lists ideas for military operations.
“One of those ideas, No. 28, was at the heart of that idea, which was to get a body and make it look like it was an airman who drowned at sea and put false papers on it and they to ship anywhere,” Macintyre told the paper. “He had the idea of a novel by a man named Basil Thomson, who no one reads these days, who was a pretty terrible pre-war writer. I love the idea that it’s taken from a novel and picked up by another writer.”
CONTINUE READING: Ewen Montagu: The mastermind behind Operation Mincemeat.