UK 2001
director : Michael Apted
script : Tom Stoppard, based on novel by Robert Harris
producers include : Mick Jagger
cinematography : Seamus McGarvey
editing : Rick Shaine
music : John Barry
lead actors : Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam, Saffron Burrows
117 minutes

Michael Apted has a fine, honourable TV career as the brains behind the seminal 7 Up series. But as a movie-maker he’s barely third rate. There’s no way to tell whether Robert Harris’s novel – a fictional drama based around the real-life code-breakers of wartime Bletchley Park – has the makings of a decent movie or not, such is the deadeningly respectful way in which this “director” brings it to the screen.

23 years ago he tried to a similar trick with Agatha, another claustrophobic, fuzzily incomprehensible costume ‘thriller’ concocted around actual early-20th-century events, and he got away with it, thanks to the miraculous Vanessa Redgrave’s performance as Agatha Christie. This time, despite sterling work from Northam and Winslet, it’s clear Apted hasn’t advanced a single inch in the intervening two decades. He’s such a careful pair of hands he was even entrusted by the Broccolis with their oh-so-priceless James Bond-shaped Ming vase.

The Bond connection is the most interesting thing about Enigma – just as Agatha featured a young Timothy Dalton as Christie’s boorish husband, here Northam shows once again why he’d make the best ever 007, oozing suaveness as the Secret Service agent dispatched to Bletchley on the scent of a potential traitor. All roads seem to lead to a missing blonde bombshell named Claire (Burrows), chief cause of genius codebreaker Tom Jericho’s (Scott) nervous breakdown. The only person Jericho can trust is Claire’s ferociously resourceful – but somewhat frumpy – friend Hester (Winslet), and together they set out to solve the mystery, break the latest German codes, and, just maybe, fall in love.

It’s all grindingly laborious stuff, borderline watchable as a low-wattage thriller but unsuitable for any closer scrutiny. While Winslet and Northam inject what pep they can into Tom Stoppard’s constipated script, their efforts are stranded within an essentially bogus product. Scott is worryingly convincing as the tormented brainbox – his eyes often look like they’ve been boiled in their sockets. But what’s his accent doing, oscillating wildly between Manchester and his own native Scots? The Manchester angle is especially worrying, as it (among other things) suggests Jericho is based on Alan Turing, the real star of the Enigma operation.

Trouble is, the real Turing was homosexual, and the persecution he suffered led him to a genuinely tragic suicide, the nature of which is way beyond anything covered in this relatively anodyne, conventional treatment. The way Turing was dealt with during his lifetime was a national disgrace, and this movie is hardly a step in the right direction. There’s a street in Manchester called Alan Turing Way. Hardly sufficient tribute, but better than nothing. If only Robert Harris and Michael Apted could have gone to the trouble of coming up with a vaguely worthwhile homage. After all, the bloke only won us the bloody war.

3rd October, 2001 (seen Oct-2-01, UGC Boldon)

by Neil Young
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