Michael Apted’s Enigma is a World War II suspense/mystery and concerns the British’s attempts to break the German code machine called Enigma. The American World War II movie U-571 breached the same subject, but from an action-adventure point of view. Enigma is written by Tom Stoppard, who adapted from a novel by Robert Harris.
The film follows code breaker and mathematician Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott), who is helping a group of similar eggheads to break the German enigma. When we first see him, Tom is burnt out and just returning from a forced exile and back to the code center where he and the other brainiacs ply their trade for Mother England. It seems the Germans have come up with another version of the enigma and this time it seems to be unbreakable. But breaking this new enigma is the least of Tom’s problems because he’s still hung over from his failed relationship with the beautiful Claire (Saffron Burrows), one of the center’s many typists, who incidentally has gone missing. As Tom and Claire’s roommate Hester (Kate Winslet) struggles to find answers to Claire’s disappearance, the German U-Boats are hunting Ally cargo ships in the Atlantic Ocean…
The whole concept and idea of the enigma machines are quite interesting. I was glued to the screen whenever the topic of the enigma came up, but was hopelessly bored when the mystery of Claire re-surfaced, which it did constantly. This is not a good thing, since Claire’s disappearance takes up much of the movie’s first hour, and later on, it’s last half hour. The movie runs at 110 minutes, and all but 30 minutes of that is devoted to Tom and Hester’s search for Claire, or at least for what happened to her.
Enigma is sold as a suspense/mystery, but unfortunately I didn’t particularly care for the mystery part. As played by Saffron Burrows, the stunning blonde named Claire is certainly beautiful and nice to look at, but as written she is not all that interesting. She’s pretty, she likes to play around with men, she has some nice dance moves, and she hides things that she shouldn’t be in possession of in the first place under a secret floorboard in her room. Other than that I couldn’t care less what happened to Claire.
Dougray Scott (Mission Impossible 2) plays the mousy (and at times wimpy) Tom Jericho, who is smart but not all that bright when it comes to women. Scott’s Tom spends much of the movie looking confused or at the verge of a nervous breakdown. Director Michael Apted intercuts with flashback scenes showing Tom as the bright and clean-cut young man when he first arrived at the code center, and the beginnings (and eventual ending) of his romance with Claire. Scott certainly does a good genius when the film decides he should go back to being a genius and work on deciphering the enigma. When he’s not working on the code machine, Scott looks lost.
Kate Winslet, looking slightly plumper than usual (are those prosthetics?) plays Hester as a plain woman with a fierce sense of determination and a biting intellect. Other than that, she has very little to do but run around looking plain. Her romance with Tom is predictable and not all that convincing. Am I suppose to believe Tom would go from the stunning Claire to the she’s-so-plain-it-hurts Hester in less than a week, all the while pining for the missing Claire, and seeing her in everything and everywhere? Give me a break.
Which brings me to a nagging problem I have with the film’s plot. It concerns Tom and Hester as they go about investigating Claire’s disappearance. Granted, Tom is crazy about Claire and Hester wants to know what happened to her happy-go-lucky roommate. Still, I can’t quite bring myself to believe that these two people, who works at the most crucial branch of the British military at a time of a World War, would run around in the open conspiring, spying, and stealing sensitive equipment and documents left and right. I find all that just a tad hard to swallow.
The movie’s best character is Wigram, played by Jeremy Northam. Wigram is an intelligence officer (re: spy catcher) who spends his time skulking in the background and flustering everyone he comes in contact with, especially Tom Jericho. The rest of the cast breezes on by, and only Robert Pugh as the a-hole boss Skynner makes an impression. (Again, I have to wonder why Skynner was such a jerk towards Jericho — the center’s number one code breaker — in a time of war. Isn’t petty hatred ffor someone that valuable to the war effort just a tad…petty?)
Michael Apted directs the film without much flair, and along with his cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, the two chooses to film the Claire flashbacks with tinted red. The rest of the film looks like a TV movie of the week, which means there is nothing visually special going on onscreen. If not for the performances by its lead actors and Northam, Enigma can be called a seriously lacking film.
And I certainly could have used more enigma action and less Claire investigation.
Michael Apted (director) / Robert Harris (novel), Tom Stoppard (screenplay)
CAST: Dougray Scott …. Tom Jericho
Kate Winslet …. Hester Wallace
Jeremy Northam …. Wigram
Saffron Burrows …. Claire Romilly