Enigma (15)

Review by Marc Ashdown

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Scene selection and subtitles.

THE AMERICANS gave us their view of how World War II was won in the shape of last summer's blockbusting U-571, and now it's the turn of the Brits to set the record straight.

While Hollywood would have us all believe a crack team of chisel-jawed marines safeguarded the free world with their high-sea heroics, in truth, the key to cracking the German Enigma coding machine was buried deep within a hut 60 miles north of London.

Not as exciting, gung-ho or action-packed as its US counterpart, Enigma is quintessentially English and very slowly and politely corrects the US delusions with a steadily-paced potboiler which unravels with as many twists, turns and bluffs as its title would suggest. Which is admirable and serves as an apt-reminder of the almost insulting artistic liberty mainstream films like U-571 take these days; but also, poses the question of why do they do it in the first place.

Having truth on one's side by no means makes a good film and sadly, while an honourable attempt to hail the brains who worked tirelessly to eventually make good out of the bloodshed, this simply isn't a very good film. As a history lesson it sheds light on the inner-workings of Bletchley Park, the nondescript Station X location where the codebreakers worked 24-hours-a-day intercepting, documenting and attempting to crack Nazi transmissions. At the centre is the `bombe machine' - the ultimate key to the war - which manipulated the combinations of letters generated by Enigma to decipher coded messages.

Fascinating stuff, but still nothing more than endless documentaries have recounted over the years. Which is where it all falls face down. The facts and figures lend themselves to a dramatic plot derived of much drama, lacking tension and which instead comes across as a James Bond caper without any of the fun (ie. action).

Dougray Scott and Kate Winslet snoop around dusty cupboards looking for evidence to prove or disprove whether the missing Saffron Burrows (Scott's muse, Winslet's housemate) is a spy or not. The fact they look like they belong in a Scooby Doo cartoon constantly undermines the tension and their burgeoning relationship - (of course they fall in love, it's a film isn't it?)

En route to happiness they both have a hand in cracking the code, preventing the real spy from liaising with ze Germans and shaping history in the process. At this point I have to say that I actually liked it a lot. But weighing my own personal fascination for the events surrounding the code-breaking with the blood and guts hunger of the majority of today's cinema-going public leads me to urge caution.

Experienced playwright Tom Stoppard's script is stagy and so theatrically pedestrian it's frustrating - but it's still richly textured enough to yield a great deal of satisfaction with a little perseverance. Scott and Winslet, although unwittingly comical at times, are always worth sticking with and both give brooding, less-is-more performances. I'm sure some liberties were still taken even here (the imaginative Mick Jagger serves as first-time producer) but it is, for those who care, a much more measured and honest depiction of the quiet heroism which so readily slips unnoticed at such times of desperation.

The Americans showed us front-line combat and white-knuckle terror, but lurking in the background there's always the real deal; almost embarrassed to step forward and claim a fair share of the accolades. A shame then that it's highly likely to be criminally ignored by critics and audiences alike. But at least will exist on record as a microcosm example of the bravery, honesty and valor exhibited by so many, in so many unique ways, at a time of such universal terror.