The mystery thickens
WW II thriller Enigma presents a Hitchcockian mini-series of sorts
Michael Apted’s Enigma is another kind of war story, an offbeat suspense thriller in which English code breakers in World War II become entangled simultaneously in a crucial phase of the war and in a variety of puzzles about their individual characters. It’s a moment on the precipice of history that also has a peculiar crossfire of romantic personal dramas running through it.
Scripted by Tom Stoppard from a novel by Robert Harris, the onscreen results look a little as if some characters from A Beautiful Mind had wandered into a British thriller in the Alfred Hitchcock mode. This multi-layered tale is partly about the role of the Enigma machine in World War II code breaking and partly about a series of enigmas of personal character. There are parts of a couple of love stories and a murder mystery of sorts as well.
The film’s “beautiful mind” is Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott), the leading genius among a youthful crew of brainy Brits working in concert to break German codes during a key phase of the war. There’s suspense aplenty just from the code breaking part of it, but Jericho is struggling back from a nervous breakdown, getting variously involved with another code breaker (Kate Winslet) and searching for his lost love (Saffron Burrows), who has disappeared in suspicious circumstances.
Scott is both fragile and intense, and Winslet is pert and sharp but leaves the glamour to Burrows, who is a dazzling presence in Jericho/Scott’s forlorn flashbacks. The film’s most striking performance, however, comes from Jeremy Northam, who is suavely astute (and a bit menacing and mysterious) in the role of a British government agent named Wigram.
The acting and the period-piece stuff are good enough that the bewildering zigzags of the plot remain at least partly intriguing. But there are times when Enigma feels a little too much like a feature-length condensation of a more sprawling kind of story—a mini-series, perhaps? Apted and Stoppard give us solutions and puzzles with nearly equal force, and that in itself proves puzzling.