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A couple of years ago PBS aired a 2-hour episode of Nova (the American
equivalent of the BBC's Horizon) called 'Decoding Nazi Secrets.' It was
a fascinating documentary about the work done at Bletchley Park, as
well as some material about its American counterpart, Arlington Hall. I
had wished it was even longer, for I suspected that what was left out
was as interesting as what was included. Among the many memorable
characters in the story, none stood out more than Alan Turing, a
painfully shy, socially awkward, utterly brilliant genius. I found
myself wishing that someone would make a theatrical film about the
Enigma code and a film of Alan Turing's life, or both.
Unfortunately, this isn't it. In March of 1943, code-breakers at Bletchley Park discover to their horror that the German navy has changed the code sets used to communicate with U-boats at sea. These were based on the famous and diabolically complex encryption machine known as the Enigma. Authorities enlist the help of a brilliant young man named Tom Jericho (played by Dougray Scott) to help them break the code again. The possibility of a spy within the British code-breakers' ranks is raised, and Tom's love interest, Claire (Saffron Burrows), has disappeared. To solve these mysteries, Tom recruits Claire's best friend, Hester Wallace (Kate Winslet). While investigating Claire's personal life, the pair discovers personal and international betrayals involving the now-infamous Katyn massacre in Poland. Of course, Tom and Hester fall in love.
Dougray Scott actually does bear some physical resemblance to Alan Turing, but there the comparison ends. Turing's sorry, shabby reward for the instrumental role he played in winning the war for Britain was to be persecuted during the Cold War because his homosexuality was viewed as a security risk, to the point that he committed suicide. While 'Enigma' looks good and plays fairly well as a decent espionage film, the viewer who knows the factual background of this piece of fiction will probably be disappointed. The best part for me was the recreation of the physical setting at wartime Bletchley Park, especially the Enigma machines themselves and the famous Bombes, which were invented by Turing (Jericho in the film). These were among the world's first computing machines; they were a stroke of brilliance by Turing: Instead of looking for what a coded message WAS, they operated according to the principle of eliminating what it was NOT. This cut the number of possibilities by better than 90% and greatly simplified the work of the human code-breakers. It is somewhat surprising that this rather wan film is the work of Tom Stoppard and Michael Apted; they have done better.
'Enigma' is the kind of war movie that may not be loved by many people,
mostly because there isn't much of action to be seen in it. At least,
not the kind of action they would like to see: no heroically fighting
soldiers, no breathtaking dogfights between the RAF and the
Luftwaffe... But people like me, who are deeply interested in every
aspect of the Second World War and who can appreciate a good story,
certainly will love it.
It's March 1943 and the crypto-analysts at Britain's code-breaking center have discovered that the German U-boats have changed their Enigma Code. At first the English were able to read all their messages, but now they are back where they first started ... nowhere. Their only hope is the brilliant young man named Tom Jericho, who was able to crack the first code and who'll now have to do the same with the new one. In the meantime Tom's girlfriend Claire has disappeared and at the same time it is believed that there is a spy in the ranks of the code-breakers. When looking for his lost girlfriend and investigating her personal life, he uncovers some personal and international betrayals...
However it is clear that the main story of this movie is fictional, the entire movie is certainly interesting to watch. I mean, I have never had the chance to see how this enigma machines really worked, so I really appreciated the fact that it was shown so well in this movie. What I also liked in this movie was the love story that certainly wasn't too corny or overwhelming. It was an interesting part of the story that never bothered me, it just made the movie even better.
As I already said, this may not be the kind of war movie for the masses, but I liked it and that's why I give it at least a 7.5/10, perhaps even an 8/10.
"Enigma" blends fact with fiction as it tells a carefully crafted story about the unseen and unsung heros of British WWII code-cracking who decrypted the infamous "Enigma" code which Germany used to command it's U-boat armada in the North Atlantic putting allied convoys in peril. With plenty of history and super-secret code cracking to feed the left brain and a dramatic tale of a top code-cracker and his surreptitious affairs of heart and mind for the right brain, "Enigma" has something to offer everyone. The film manages it's intricate plot well, offers solid performances, blends intrigues with lots of WWII crypto-speak, and moves along swiftly while staying real and avoiding the usual excesses of filmdom. A smart flick for smart minds. (B+)
This is a rare pleasure of a film - one that is prepared to treat its
viewers intelligently and tell a war-time story without explosives and
histrionics and without falsifying history to glorify the Americans. It is
based on the best-selling novel by Robert Harris whose previous work
`Fatherland' suffered so badly when translated to the screen. Here he has a
decent screenplay from Tom Stoppard, assured direction from Michael Apsted,
and three fine performances by British actors.
Dougray Scott, in a very different role from his `Mission Impossible 2' outing, has lost weight to portray brilliant, but tortured, code-breaker Tom Jericho at Britain's war-time Bletchley Park; Kate Winslet put on weight (she was pregnant at the time) for a performance far removed from `Titantic' as the frumpy, but clever, Hester; and Jeremy Northam is excellent as the sardonic secret service agent Wigram who knows far more than he is prepared to reveal.
I first viewed this film the way its makers would want me to - on the
big screen, and with friends. It commanded my attention and
concentration, which, I believe, is the way good movies should. The
post-viewing dinner and analysis made me want to go back and see it
again, in spite of the fact I thought my absorption was total. In the
event I waited until I was able to rent, then purchase, the DVD. So my
opinion is based on multiple viewings, which says much about the
complexity and detail ENIGMA provides.
I am not surprised to read comments from others who believe it was too complex after just one viewing. But I am surprised by the diversity of opinion of its direction, acting, scripting, design and cinematography - all of which I found to be of the highest standard.
This is one of those rare films that does not require an audience to suspend dis-belief. It is primarily fact-based, and while, like most fact-based movies, some events are concatenated, characters combined or dramatized, the presentation oozes credibility. Is it entertaining? Absolutely. Do the romantic plots and themes detract? Not at all. Is the code-breaking boring? No, but, like most who viewed it with some knowledge of the German encryption machine from which the movie takes its title, it may have left stuff out that would be nice to know about. Other reviewers have referenced web sites and publications that contain the detail and I have sourced material that has satisfied my curiosity.
It is not a documentary, in spite of the fact that director, Apted, is an eminent documentary maker. It is a human drama set amongst the surreal environment of the code-breaking complex of Bletchley Park. I can't comment on how faithful Stoppard's screenplay is to Harris' book, not having read it. And it is specious for anyone to make comparisons in any case.
Does the film downplay the Polish contribution to the Ultra activities? I don't think so. They captured an early 3-rotor Enigma machine and copied it and successfully cracked the codes then in use. What the English operatives captured was the later 3-rotor machine with the front patch panel, which was a quantum leap ahead of the pre-war machines. Turing and his associates then created the 'bombes' - reproduced in exquisite detail for the movie with assistance of the curator of the Bletchley Park Museum. Incidentally, Britain built a number of these bombes for US intelligence, which the US still have. But that's the sort of detail that is not essential to the execution of the plot or the enjoyment of its portrayal.
I have now enjoyed viewing ENIGMA so often I have lost count. And it has done nothing but whet my appetite for further, while less frequent viewings. I can add nothing to the erudite comments of the more discerning reviewers regarding the performances of Scott, Winslett, Northam, Burrows and their superb supporting cast members. They have crafted one of the finest wartime movies I have had the pleasure to experience. An absorbing and fascinating movie. I rate it 10 out of 10.
Postscript - added 30/07/2011.
Incidentally, at my first viewing of the movie, I was impressed by the performance of a rather portly, bespectacled young actress. It was not until the post-viewing dinner my curiosity was sated, somewhat ashamedly (but in Ms Winslett's favour), for failing to recognise this talented lady. I later discovered - and it is obvious in the final scene of the film - Kate was, in fact, pregnant at the time. Carefully disguised during shooting, her condition simply made her character all the more believable.
Firstly: no, it's NOT a scandal that Alan Turing isn't mentioned. He
couldn't be mentioned without being made into a character and given a role
in the story - which would mean, among other things, placing him on the list
of suspected traitors, at least temporarily, which would either be a slur,
or (assuming it wasn't a slur because we'd immediately know him to be
innocent) a constraint on the mystery. Throwing in a clearly fictitious
genius was the right thing to do. (Turing was the most important, but not
the only, genius involved.)
The main problem with "Enigma" is that emphasis is badly misplaced. I was interested in (a) how the war effort was going, (b) whether Bletchley Park would come up with solutions in time, (c) HOW the process of breaking codes was actually carried out, and (d) when Tom would get over his idiotic infatuation with that annoying blonde chick and fall, as any sensible person would, for the dynamic and twenty-times-more-attractive Hester (Kate Winslet). I won't swear that I was interested in these things in that order, but I WAS interested in them to the exclusion of everything else; the mystery subplot involving Claire that for some reason becomes THE plot, was a distraction. Its twists and turns (they come along like clockwork every fifteen minutes) are of the kind you don't even bother trying to follow. You just wait for the next confrontation between Dougray Scott and Jeremy Northam, of which Stoppard's (or Harris's) mechanical sleight-of-hand is just a means of providing. A pity he couldn't have found some other means - or moved Northam's character to a different movie altogether, where he wouldn't take time away from Enigma, Winslet's character, etc.
The film - and the script, too, all things considered - is well put together (intelligent writing, excellent acting and photography), so the Claire subplot makes it a real missed opportunity.
The movie concerns upon an investigation team in the Bletchley Park
mansion with the aim to decipher communication keys of German
submarines during second world war.
In the squad there are a wise nut-head (Dougray Scott) , an ugly and outcast girl (Kate Winslet) and another rush and beautiful (Saffron Burrows), and yet a clever investigator (Jeremy Norton).
The movie mingles mystery , action , a love story , thriller and it's quite amusing.
The flick is paced to nick of time , as they ought to figure out the clues by means of the Enigma , a mechanical device before that an Allied fleet was found by German subs .
One of the motivations behind shooting this picture was the indignation of many British World War 2 veterans over the movie U-571 , in which the capture of the Enigma was shown to be done by American navy soldiers .
Michael Apted direction is nice , he creates enough suspense , we're very interested in the events , besides being based on real deeds.
Final feature film with a full music score composed by John Barry , his music is fascinating likeness to "Dancing with wolves" and a lot of hits during his long career thirty years ago .
It was such a thrilling movie that had a great success in box office.
The film will appeal to emotions enthusiasts and suspense fans.
Rating: 7/10 above average .
And this Movie is definitely worth seeing. It's so nice to go to these
cinema factories and be treated with a good film, rather than the tripe
which always comes out of Hollywood.
Enigma is a quirky, happy go lucky film about codebreakers during the war, with a bit of espionage and a bit of romance, in just the right proportions. Go and see it, it is not too taxing on the brain really as someone else here said, it is certainly not mind numbingly boring Hollywood fodder.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Nice and sentimental, but perhaps, in the light of the fact that it was
Polish cryptographers Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Rózycki and Henryk
Zygalski who in 1932 deciphered Enigma, the present plotting is not
very fair, is it? Further, the justification of the plot is not very
convincing, not to speak about the resolution. Perhaps crucial
historical events, always ambiguous and open to conflicting
interpretations, are not the best material for nice and sentimental
It so happened, though, that only yesterday I watched Jeremy Northam in "Possession" (2002). There, the whole point is to remember Northam in various Austen BBC productions. Here, one delightful point was to see him in a very different role. What is more, the day before yesterday I re-watched "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2004). What a different Kate Winslett there! It is a great pleasure to watch the actors who, unlike others who always play the same role themselves can incarnate so many different characters! Oh well, they are British...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Some mild spoilers follow...
Enigma was a film destined to upset some people. Those who didn't read the book would moan that the Brits were trying to take all the glory away from the Poles (glory and war...how terribly 19th century...), and that Turing was replaced with Jericho because Turing was gay. Those who had read the book would complain about all the layering and depth that was sliced off the plot in order to pander to a supposedly intellectually impaired audience. Both camps are of course missing the point.
The film is a fictional tale of intrigue set against a backdrop of momentous historical events. The Enigma of the title refers not only to the German code but also to several of the characters. Claire Rommily is an Enigma that Jericho fails to break until the very end of the film, Puck is an Enigma made all the more un-breakable by the fact that no-one recognises him as such. Jericho too is an Enigma, even to the audience who is privy to some of his inner thoughts, as he hides as much as he discloses and is capable of more than appearances suggest.
So the story is as much about the codes that people use with each other in everyday life as it is about military code-breaking. Which is not to say that the use of Bletchley Park as a frame for the story is arbitrary; the two kinds of code breaking are bound up in each other, and that is the art of the piece. The artfulness of the film must be accepted before any kind of criticism is undertaken.
The historical criticisms that are nevertheless levelled at Enigma seem churlish to say the least. Firstly, the Poles are an integral part of the plot, and in the book significant time is given over to their crucial part in the very existence of Bletchley. That this aspect is less apparent in the film has more to do with the limits of the medium than any British propaganda; Fasson and Grazier's role is similarly pared down to a mere line. As for Jericho as a sanitised form of Turing, such criticisms show a level of historical ignorance in the critic that is thankfully never shared by the film-makers. Turing was in a far more senior, technical position than Jericho, and in the book it is made clear that Jericho is one of Turing's students from Cambridge. Anyone wanting a film all about Turing should get hold of the excellent Breaking The Code, starring Derek Jacobi.
What is important about the history in Enigma is that it never alters anything that really happened, merely weaves it's plot within the established facts. Unlike, say, Pearl Harbour...
Of course, there are other potential problems with the film, but they rest pretty much exclusively within the purview of personal taste. It isn't a fast-paced actioner; at no point does Dougray Scott battle Tom Cruise on a pair of powerful motorbikes, but then Marmite doesn't taste of chocolate, yet I like them both the same. Some concessions to the visual nature of films are made (the re-framed ending being an obvious example), but readers of the book should either accept these changes or stop watching films altogether.
Whilst slow paced at times Enigma remains intellectually stimulating and the plot never seems to drag or become bloated. As an example of a well-made, intriguing, and, dare I say it, entertaining film, this is one for the DVD collection.
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