Enigma (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner28/09/2001

Three out of five stars
Running time: 117 mins

Well-acted, intelligent drama that succeeds in recreating the feel of old war movies but remains oddly unsatisfying, largely because of Scott’s downbeat performance.

Enigma is based on the novel by Robert Harris and takes place in 1943. Britain’s top code-breakers at Station X in Bletchley Park have been dealt a devastating blow as the Nazis have suddenly changed the codes by which they communicate.

In desperation, the authorities recall Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott), a brilliant code-breaker and mathematician, who has just recovered from a nervous breakdown, following a failed love affair with Claire Romilly, a beautiful co-worker (Saffron Burrows).

However, when he arrives at Bletchley, there are two shocks awaiting him: firstly that the authorities suspect there may be a spy at Bletchley, and secondly that Claire has disappeared.

With secret service agent Wigram (Jeremy Northam) breathing down his neck, Jericho joins forces with Claire’s dowdy flatmate Hester (Kate Winslet) in order to track her down…

The acting in Enigma is generally excellent, though Scott is a little too serious and doom-laden to really engage as a romantic lead.

Kate Winslet, however, is wonderful; adopting what can only be (charitably) described as the ‘sexy librarian’ look throughout the film, complete with grey cardigan and thick-rimmed spectacles – a far cry from the glamorous image of her that adorns the poster for the film.

It works, though – you genuinely care about her character and her warmth rubs off on Scott in more ways than one.

It’s Jeremy Northam, however, who almost steals the film – he camps it up for all he’s worth as Wigram, seemingly playing the part in homage to 40s actor George Sanders and lacking only a comedy moustache to twirl.

The film-makers collude willingly in the audience’s enjoyment of his character - there’s a delightful scene in which Wigram lies on Jericho’s bed, gleefully describing what Jericho and Claire got up to on the same bed, all of which is swiftly intercut with shots of them doing just that.

In fact, it has to be said that the film, whether intentionally or not, has more than its fair share of homoeroticism. Several of the characters exchange smouldering looks (notably Robert Pugh, who seems to have a bit of a thing for Tom Hollander, who in turn seems rather enamoured of Scott, all of which leads to a tension-releasing punch-up).

As well as that, Kate lovingly watches Burrows dance around in a skimpy negligee and Northam appears to want to shag everyone in the film and doesn’t seem to fussy about which order he does it in, either.

There are some amusingly offbeat scenes (for example, the World’s Slowest Car Chase), and the actual code-breaking sequence is exciting, if also confusing to watch.

There’s also the odd laughter-inducing example of Captioning For Idiots (such as "London, 1946: After the war") but the film is, at the same time, genuinely informative, since a crucial part of it relates to the Katyn Massacre, in which the Russians murdered thousands of Polish soldiers and blamed it on the Nazis.

Ultimately, Enigma is a watchable British drama, enlivened by some excellent performances and a typically catchy John Barry score that you’ll find yourself humming on the way out.

Not only that, but you can also play Spot Mick Jagger, since he used his clout as producer to secure himself a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. Not great, but worth watching nonetheless.

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Content updated: 13/12/2017 16:45

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