'Operation Mincemeat' director John Madden pays tribute to 'extraordinary' Paul Ritter as first trailer lands

·Senior Editor
·5-min read

Watch the debut trailer for Operation Mincemeat below

John Madden, the award-winning director of Shakespeare In Love, has dedicated his fascinating new World War II drama Operation Mincemeat to the memory of late actor Paul Ritter.

The Friday Night Dinners star, who appears in the film, died aged 54 in April 2021 after being diagnosed with a brain tumour. Talking to Yahoo about the movie which wrapped early 2020, 72-year-old Madden says Ritter's passing was 'terrible'.

"We dedicated the film to him," Madden tells us as the first trailer is released, "because once you've worked with him, literally everything I read, I mentally cast him somewhere in it. Because he really can do anything. He's quite extraordinary."

Paul Ritter has died aged 54 from a brain tumour. (Getty Images)
Paul Ritter has died aged 54 from a brain tumour. (Getty Images)

In one of his last screen performances, Ritter portrays Sir Bentley Purchase, a British physician and coroner who plays a key role in the eponymous subterfuge mission at the heart of the film.

Read more: Malcolm McDowell looks back on 50 years of A Clockwork Orange

Based on Ben Mcintyre's non-fiction book of the same name and adapted by Michelle Ashford (The Pacific) Operation Mincemeat tells the extraordinary true story of a crucial WWII mission in 1943 that sought to keep the Allied invasion of Sicily hidden from the enemy. 

Matthew Macfadyen, Colin Firth, and Johnny Flynn in Operation Mincemeat (Warner Bros.)
Matthew Macfadyen, Colin Firth, and Johnny Flynn in Operation Mincemeat (See-Saw Films/Warner Bros.)

The operation — in part dreamt up by future James Bond creator Ian Fleming who worked in Naval Intelligence during the second World War — involved floating a corpse onto a Spanish beach laden with misleading intelligence that they hoped would divert the enemy from their true purpose.

It's a story that seemed to good to be true, which is what attracted Madden in the first place. "It's one of those stories that exists in the ether," Madden tells us. "I think of it as a kind of an urban myth. Although it's not a myth. It's such an incredibly challenging story to make as a film, because it sits right outside the normal parameters of what you think of as 'a war movie'. But that, of course, is its strength."

"It's bizarre and odd, and unlikely, and surprising, and funny, and then incongruous and very tense. And eventually, it's dealing with incredibly high stakes, which sort of sneak up on you as the film unfolds."

Kelly McDonald and Matthew Macfadyen in Operation Mincemeat (Warner Bros.)
Kelly McDonald and Matthew Macfadyen in Operation Mincemeat (See-Saw Films/Warner Bros.)

As intelligence officer Ewen Montagu Colin Firth was the first to be cast and played a crucial part in getting the film sold at Cannes Film Festival in 2019. He'd appeared in Madden's Oscar-winner Shakespeare in Love, and they'd been trying to work together again ever since. Having the Oscar-winning actor, Michelle Ashford's script, and this incredible true story 'piqued everybody's interest' says Madden, who shot the film on location in London, Spain and Sicily.

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Succession star Matthew Macfadyen came next as fellow intelligence officer Charles Cholmondeley. Although top of Madden's list, Macfadyen only came available when the third season of his hit HBO show was delayed. The film wrapped five days before the first coronavirus lockdown hit in March 2020, pushing back his Succession return even further.

Madden assembled an incredible 'who's who' of British acting talent around that central duo, and the film boasts an impressive ensemble cast that includes Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton, Jason Isaacs, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Gatiss, and Simon Russell Beale as Sir Winston Churchill.

Johnny Flynn as Ian Fleming in Operation Mincemeat (Warner Bros.)
Johnny Flynn as Ian Fleming in Operation Mincemeat (See-Saw Films/Warner Bros.)

With No Time To Die currently doing gangbusters at the UK box office, the appearance of 007's creator Ian Fleming is sure to pique a lot of interest, and playing the man with the golden typewriter is rising British star Johnny Flynn

Flynn, a singer-songwriter-actor with extraordinary range, has lit up screens in a variety of recent roles including psychological thrillers Cordelia and Beast, and period dramas Emma and The Dig. He also played another pre-fame pop culture icon in Stardust, and his David Bowie is a brittle and nuanced take on an embryonic pop star in waiting. 

Ian Fleming (1908-1974) the English novelist in his study (1958). He worked as naval intelligence officer during the Second World War, an experience that provided him with the material for 12 novels and 7 short stories featuring his famous hero James Bond. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Ian Fleming (1908-1974) the English novelist in his study (1958). (© Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

"[Johnny Flynn's] a complete chameleon," Madden says. "He's wonderful, very charismatic and never quite the same from one role to another."

Flynn as Fleming narrates the film which is bookended by the battle in Sicily that the Allies are trying to prevent from being a bloodbath. Perfecting Fleming's cut glass accent was crucial to the success of the story.

Read more: Johnny Flynn on playing David Bowie

"[Fleming] narrates the film, as he does the trailer, and there's a reason for that," Madden explains. "The film is about storytelling and he's telling you the story of the film." When auditioning Flynn for the film, Madden asked Flynn to record some narration as Fleming, and was blown away with what he came up with.

Johnny Flynn in Stardust (Credit: Paul van Carter)
Johnny Flynn in Stardust (Credit: Paul van Carter)

"He just channeled the guy. The idiom is so incredibly accurate. There are some excellent recordings of [Fleming]... I mean, I wasn't looking for that, particularly, it was more a tone that I was looking for. And he just got there completely. And he's got a very, very significant presence in the film. 

"He's more of a character who comes in and out of the film, and stands slightly apart from it, which is appropriate for a storyteller. But nevertheless, he's quite significant in the story. That was a lovely piece of casting that I wasn't expecting."

Although Operation Mincemeat has all the trappings of a World War II drama: it looks like it's going to be unexpected in many ways.

"It's just very, very unusual as a war story," Madden concludes. "It's so not what you usually see. Both in turn, and in variety, and emotional intensity of a very unusual kind. It's unusual. It's a war story unlike any other."

Operation Mincemeat releases in UK cinemas on 7 January, 2022.

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