At the height of World War II, mathematical genius Jericho returns to the Bletchley Park code-cracking base after a nervous breakdown following an ill-fated romance. The pressure is mounting because the Germans have mysteriously changed their code again, hinting that there may be a spy in the camp. And fingers are pointing at Jericho.
Robert Harris' expert novel is cut from the mould of the classic British spy thriller, teeming with double-crosses and red herrings, caught in a whirlpool of paranoia. It is also very wordy, bereft of traditional action scenes and set in a period groove that lends itself more to the Sunday night TV serial than Friday night multiplex viewing.
Apted, Stoppard and first-time producer Mick Jagger (spot the cameo) have worked hard at giving the story a cinematic sheen. And there is premium British acting talent on display: Scott is excellent as the nerve-shredded genius unable to let go of his unresolved past, Winslet dutifully frumps-up as his ever-eager sidekick, and Northam damn-near pickpockets the movie as the slimy, subtle Secret Service operative trying to piece it all together. Additionally, it looks the part filmed on location at the real thing: Bletchley Park's former Station X.
Bletchley's fascinating contribution to the war effort is given full voice. The intricacies of Enigma code-cracking based on synapse-frazzling number games is made sensible, even riveting, during one furious sequence, as the code-breakers race against time to divine the latest key, sacrificing a shipping convoy in the process. The sheer mental pressure the War exerted on the British stiff-upper ethos is palpable amongst the clandestine maze of flashbacks and shifty sub-plots.
Yet, the story still slips through their fingers. Apted doesn't have enough faith that his spy games and brain-busting are dynamic enough to keep an audience attentive, and resorts to melodramatic impulses soppy car chases, a fluffed trainbound chase especially in the slapdash ending. It needs more room to breathe, to play on the mounting tensions and romantic misfires, to make the twists hit home as real shockers. Sorry fellas, it needs a nice, cosy slot on the goggle-box; edge of the sofa, tea and biscuits, thank heavens we won the war.
Full marks for attempting something commercial and brainy, but it just can't outwit its Sunday supplement framework. More interesting than exciting.