Lou Lumenick for NY Post, added January 26, 2001
Emanuel Levy for Screen Daily, January 25, 2001
Duane Byrge for the Hollywood Reporter, January 25, 2001
Joe Leydon for Variety, January 24, 2001
Jeffrey Wells for Reel.com, January 23, 2001
Geoffrey Gilmore's Review, January 2, 2001
Frank T.J. Mackey's Review
The Stax Report, June 13, 2000
Smilin' Jack Ruby's Review, May 8, 2000
January 26: Here are some comments about the film from a Lou Lumenick column that appeared in the NY Post earlier this week (negative on film; positive on performances). Thanks to my pal Sylvia of Dougray Scott in Focus:
I couldn't get into the premiere Monday night, where rock legend Mick Jagger explained he co-produced the film with 'Saturday Night Live' honcho Lorne Michaels (also on hand) to save money by avoiding competing projects. Instead, I attended a 9 a.m. screening on Tuesday at the Egyptian Theater on Main Street in Park City, the first venue I've attended here that has first-class sound and good sight lines.
Neither Mick nor Michael were on hand in the Egyptian, much less the movie's stars, Dougray Scott and Kate Winslet. Apted was there, and he suggested the audience might have a hard time following the complicated plot at such an early hour. I think audiences will have trouble following 'Enigma,' which is filled with confusing flashbacks and unresolved plot threads, at any hour. At best it's an interesting failure, based on a Thomas Harris novel about a neurotic mathematical genius assigned to help break top-secret German codes.
Scott is very good as the hero, but the movie is stolen by a very zaftig Kate Winslet, nearly unrecognizable behind coke-bottle glasses, as another code-breaker who helps uncover a plot so complicated I couldn't tell you about if I wanted to.
The film is apparently a lot more historically accurate than last year's 'U-571,' which angered Brits by giving Americans credit for breaking the German codes by capturing a cryptogram machine.
January 25: Here's a great new review!
Review by Emanuel Levy -Screened at Sundance (Premieres)
Revisiting a little-known yet extremely important and heroic chapter of World War II, Michael Apted's Enigma is a compelling, sumptuously-made romantic thriller that is effective in both its political and more personal dimensions. Steeped in the tense atmosphere of wartime Britain, this suspenseful drama centres on the mysteries of codes and code breaking, while at the same time telling a quintessentially noir tale of love, obsession and betrayal.
Theatrical prospects are excellent for an intelligent film that benefits from a bright and elegant screenplay by Oscar-winner Tom Stoppard, based on Robert Harris' bestselling novel; taut storytelling; luxuriant production values; and splendid acting by Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam and, above all, Dougray Scott cast in a seductive role that might catapult him to international stardom. However, as a period piece with an extremely complicated, demanding and cerebral plot, Enigma is likely to appeal commercially to educated arthouse patrons seeking mature and provocative entertainment.
To describe nowadays a film as old-fashioned is also to pay it a compliment, for the gap between sophisticated technical values and intelligent and thoughtful storytelling has never been as wide as it is in mainstream Hollywood cinema. Enigma is unabashedly old-fashioned, not only in the kind of story that it tells, but also in the mode and visual style in which it is told. The film's richly-dense ambience, moral ambiguity and historical authenticity recall espionage films and books by John Le Carre and Graham Greene. Indeed, in its noir sensibility and period details Enigma brings to mind Neil Jordan's splendid adaptation of Greene's The End Of The Affair, which was set in the same period and also concerned a doomed love affair.
In March 1943, the code breakers at Bletchley Park, Britain's top secret Station X (situated 60 miles north of London), are facing their greatest challenge - and worst nightmare: Nazi U Boats have unexpectedly changed the codes by which they communicate with each other and the High Command. Almost reluctantly, the authorities turn for help to Tom Jericho (Scott), a brilliant young mathematician and code breaker who has recently experienced a mysterious nervous breakdown.
In a manner recalling forceful Hollywood thrillers, the tale's time frame is tight, actually four days, during which a brilliant team of scientists at Station X has to prevent a disaster of colossal proportions: an Allied merchant shipping convoy, which is crossing the Atlantic with 10,000 passengers and vital supplies, is in danger of a massive attack.
Rather shrewdly, scripter Stoppard has taken some liberties with the chronology of the source material to present a parallel personal tragedy, which makes Enigma a more emotionally stirring and accessible movie. Through flashbacks that are smoothly integrated into the text, Stoppard relates Tom's love affair with Claire, a beautiful blonde, very much in the tradition of film noir's femme fatales. Unknown to his already suspicious colleagues, Tom becomes obsessed by the unraveling of another, equally baffling enigma of his own: Claire's sudden disappearance from Bletchley just when the authorities begin to suspect that there may be a spy at Bletchley Park.
The achievement of Stoppard's taut and shapely narrative is that he not only establishes a causal link between the two enigmas, but he also implicates the viewers in deciphering a crime mystery in which the amorous Tom becomes prime suspect. The plot is far too complex and twisty to unravel here, suffice to say that the missing Claire was romantically and/or professionally involved with at least two other crucial figures.
Enter Wigram (Northam), a member of the secret service, who interrogates Tom about his relationship with Claire, showing too much interest in Tom's past. It becomes clear from their very first meeting that these two men are not only opponents, but are heading towards a showdown, which occurs in a masterly orchestrated last reel, set on a fast-moving train and in a seemingly pastoral village in Scotland, a place hinted at early on in a postcard Claire keeps on a wall.
Although very much a solitary, haunted noir hero, Tom soon bonds with Hester (Winslet), Claire's likeable roommate. Both girls work at Bletchley: Claire on the German book, filing transcripts of all decoded messages and Hester as a "blisterer" arranging intercepted ciphers. Together, Tom and Hester examine four sheets of original cryptograms found buried under the floor at Claire's cottage, soon realising that they are German army signals. Taking the documents from Bletchley is a severe act of treason, but undeterred, the duo resolves to use them to find Claire before the authorities realise that anything is wrong.
A number of elements contribute to Enigma's poignancy, elevating it way beyond the level of just a well-executed thriller. Based on fact, Enigma relates an almost obscure chapter in history, one that ultimately helped the Allies win the war. Furthermore, the central mystery is linked to a shameful, real-life scandal in WWII: a massacre of Polish soldiers by the Russian army, a disaster that was only recently acknowledged by the Russian government. On another level, younger, tech-oriented viewers will be intrigued by the film's setting: Station X can be perceived as the birthplace of the computer age.
A veteran feature and documentary helmer, Apted brings his entire experience (including the James Bond actioner The World Is Not Enough) to a film that represents his smoothest, most technically accomplished work to date, one that benefits immensely from his well-known attention to historical and anthropological detail. Apted is no stranger to depicting bizarre communities and lifestyles (Coal Miner's Daughter, Gorillas In The Mist) and, indeed, one of Enigma's unexpected delights is his vivid portrait of Station X as a communal experience. In the film, it emerges as much more than a workplace, a site where eccentric geniuses, rigid military types and clever women of all classes co-existed, courted, and married - and in the process, unbeknownst to them, became reluctant heroes.
Enigma, the first production from Mick Jagger's Jagged Films (which is managed by Victoria Pearman), boasts technical sheen in each and every department: Seamus McGarvey's widescreen lensing is always well-composed, John Beard's production design is packed with rich period detail, Rick Shaine's editing is sharp and illuminating in its cross-cutting and montages, and John Barry's music is one of his most evocative and subtle scores in years. Each player of the central quartet, Scott, Winslet, Northam, and Burrows, gives a superlative, utterly credible performance.
Review by Duane Byrge for the Hollywood Reporter:
PARK CITY -- There's nothing enigmatic or even problematic about "Enigma," a superbly crafted, wonderfully old-fashioned British-styled World War II thriller-romance from producers Lorne Michaels and Mick Jagger. World premiering to enthusiastic response at the Sundance Film Festival, "Enigma" resonates particularly during this Internet age in the sense that this urgent story of code-breaking gives a stunning glimpse into the birth of computer technology.
It's the sort of atmospheric and dramatic storytelling, with crosses and double-crosses and Allied ships headed toward U-boats, that should rekindle the moviegoing juices in mature, discriminating viewers. Picture a David Lean- or Carol Reed-style war thriller, with James Mason lurking about as a nefarious presence, and you've got the magical essences of this Michael Apted-directed thriller.
Based on an international best-selling novel whose complex plot centers on the urgent efforts of a secret team of British cryptologists to decipher German messages, "Enigma" gets its title from the groundbreaking German machine that was by far the most advanced "computer" of its day. We learn that the secret British intelligence unit decoded the system, only to have the Germans switch their combinations and make their battle plans indecipherable to British intelligence.
In this spine-tingler, Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott) a young mathematician who was the central force in decoding the initial Nazi code network, is recalled from a British sanitarium, where he has been sent after a nervous breakdown, to spearhead breaking the code. Still fragile and fuming over past treatment by his arrogant, territorial superior, Jericho's battle is seemingly impossible -- namely, to regear the British computer system to determine Germany's new code. If his efforts are not successful within a tight, four-day time frame, the war's largest convoy of Allied ships steaming to Great Britain from New York will be sitting ducks for massing Nazi U-boats. As we're told, cracking the code is paramount -- the war will likely be lost if the German U-boats are allowed to roam undetected through the North Atlantic.
Further imperiling Jericho's efforts is the fact that it's suspected that there's a traitor lurking in their midst -- someone who tipped off the Germans originally that the Brits had cracked their code, thus causing them to change it. And, most horribly, the evidence points at Jericho's front door -- or rather, the fact that he had been smitten by a charismatic blonde (Saffron Burrows) who has suddenly disappeared and whose fickle charms were the source of Jericho's nervous breakdown. In short, Jericho must not only figure out his own complex life, crazed by his infatuation with a duplicitous woman, but he also must battle his stubborn command system to virtually single-handedly accomplish a task that would be a challenge for an entire team in a year's time. In essence, movie fans will recognize that the code, in a sense retrieving it, is the film's story MacGuffin, the object that the hero must obtain to save the world. Yet, in this case, unlike most movies the MacGuffin truly was the key to the Allied Force's survival and the world's protection from the Nazi scourge.
Admittedly, a best-selling novel that combines such a complex and wide-ranging story line, involving not only cryptology but also love-torn romance, military planning and the realpolitik of the Allied alliance, is, perhaps, too overloaded with plot and personal conflicts to encapsulate into a two-hour, mainstream entertainment. In essence, screenwriter Tom Stoppard had to crack his own code, as it were: to decipher and distill the novel's intricate and multilayered scenario to understandable dimension. While the story line is sometimes a bit of a boggle for us types who can barely navigate e-mail, "Enigma" is a remarkably clear, straightforward movie. Although Stoppard occasionally resorts to having his characters ramble out plot exposition -- usually under duress or during catalytic scenes -- the film's story flow is amazingly comprehensible and, in the jargon of one of the producers, "satisfying."
Yet the film's power, in its historical urgency and personal immediacy, is a testament to Apted's narrative skills. Ever propelling the plot line forward, even at its most complex and creakiest turns, Apted's smooth, vigorous visualization is a marvel of not only story logistics but also film aesthetics. Navigating and balancing the mutlifaceted plot and character dynamics while steamrollering them to a battleground buildup, Apted stokes our involvement throughout. "Enigma" is wonderfully paced and curdled with atmospheric visuals, a credit to the allied forces of cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, luminous compositions and production designer John Beard's telling production design. John Barry's musical score is as multilayered as the story line -- swelling and moody.
The well-ensembled players serve with distinction, most notably Scott as the war-wining cryptologist whose professional competence, mixed with his romantic ineptitude, wins our concern. Scott's heady mix of confidence with insecurity brings the tale to its most heightened dimension. Brimming with other well-balanced portrayals from its talented largely British cast, "Enigma" also is graced by several medal-of-honor turns, including Jeremy Northam's priggish secret service agent, Kate Winslet's brainy decoder clerk, Burrow's bad blonde vixen and Robert Pugh's autocratic officer -- all helping us to unravel "Enigma's" deeply coded secrets.
January 24: From Variety - Review by Joe Leydon:
Despite a few flurries of narrative fuzziness, "Enigma" ultimately emerges as an intelligent, involving and intricately plotted thriller with respectable theatrical prospects and strong home vid potential. Set primarily in and around Bletchley Park, the top-secret H.Q. for British code-breakers during World War II, pic is sufficiently compelling in a timeless fashion to interest even ticket buyers who weren't yet alive when the Vietnam War ended. Once again, director Michael Apted ("Gorky Park," "Extreme Measures") demonstrates his sure hand at crafting smartly suspenseful entertainment.
Adapted by Tom Stoppard from a well-regarded novel by Robert Harris, "Enigma" revolves around an unlikely hero: Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott), a brilliant but psychologically vulnerable mathematician. Through flashbacks and expository dialogue, pic fixes Jericho as a key player in cracking the code used by the German navy that communicated with Enigma cipher machines, devices that resemble a hybrid of manual typewriter and telephone switchboard. Unfortunately, the stress of his work -- and his rejection by co-worker and ex-lover Claire Romilly (Saffron Burrows) -- drove Jericho to a nervous breakdown.
Plot begins in March 1943, as Jericho returns from his enforced leave of absence to the Bletchley Park complex north of London. Despite the serious misgivings of his autocratic supervisor (Robert Pugh), Jericho is recalled to service because the Nazis have changed their Enigma transmission code at a singularly inconvenient time: Three massive Allied shipping convoys have just left New York, loaded with supplies to sustain the British war effort.
Shortly after his return, Jericho learns that Claire has inexplicably disappeared. Worse, he finds undeciphered transcripts of intercepted German navy signals in her house. Jericho can't help suspecting the worst, especially when he's heard rumors of a German agent working inside Bletchley. Even so, he's still hopelessly, helplessly in love, and, despite his shaky mental state, he tries to use his problem-solving expertise to find her before she's located by Wigram (Jeremy Northam), a British intelligence agent on the trail of the alleged mole.
Claire's housemate, Hester Wallace (Kate Winslet), another Bletchley employee, reluctantly agrees to expedite Jericho's investigation, and their collaboration brings them progressively closer. But Jericho remains obsessed with finding Claire, even as he takes part in a frantic effort to break the new Enigma code.
Imaginatively reconfiguring a couple of scenes from Harris' novel, Apted and Stoppard effectively intercut between the desperate maneuverings of the Bletchley Park team and Hester's solo attempt to decipher the coded messages pilfered by Claire. The true importance of the info gleaned by Claire only gradually becomes clear, however, somewhat diminishing the dramatic impact of her discovery.
Pic also stumbles during sporadic flashbacks that tend to confuse almost as much as they illuminate. Right from the start, "Enigma" demands close attention. Auds unwilling or unable to make the extra effort will be left scratching their heads. Indeed, even viewers who focus intently on every scene may find it challenging to connect the dots during a couple of key transitions.
Overall, "Enigma" plays fair and square while generating suspense with its twisty plot. And while it requires a generous suspension of disbelief to accept a few action-hero gestures by the deeply troubled Jericho, Scott is persuasive and compelling enough as his complex character to drive the narrative.
Without trying to turn "Enigma" into a self-conscious, standard-issue Hitchcock homage, Apted and his players slyly evoke the spirit of the Master of Suspense's early British thrillers. As the subtly intimidating and smugly sardonic Wigram, Northam often appears to be channeling the Cary Grant of "Notorious" and "Suspicion." And Winslet's winning portrayal of the plucky Hester deserves flattering comparisons to renderings of similarly resourceful femme characters in "The 39 Steps" and "The Lady Vanishes." (It should be noted that Winslet -- bespectacled and unabashedly zaftig -- looks appropriately unglamorous. Tabloid gossips and snippy critics will doubtless make snide remarks about her weight.)
The only weak link in the "Enigma" ensemble is Burrows. It's not that she does anything glaringly wrong. It's just that she doesn't have enough dazzling screen presence and old-fashioned glam-packed allure to allow the audience to fully appreciate the double meaning of the title.
Tech values are splendid. Of particular note is production designer John Beard's replication of the massive "thinking machine" -- a '40s forerunner of today's mainframe computers -- used by the Bletchley Park team to decipher Enigma transmissions. By the way, pic briefly but pointedly emphasizes that, regardless of what you might have been told in "U-571," U.S. forces had nothing whatsoever to do with the initial capture of Enigma machines from German U-boats.
January 23: Review by Jeffrey Wells of Reel.com:
"Nazis and Mick Jagger"
Michael Apted's Enigma, the $25 million (give or take) World War II espionage drama with Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, and Jeremy Northam, screened to a packed crowd last night at the Eccles Theatre. But the highest voltage came from the appearance of aging rock star Mick Jagger, who produced the war drama along with Saturday Night Live's Lorne Michaels.
Yeah, I agree. They're an odd-sounding couple to have pooled forces on a nail-biter about deciphering Nazi codes. Nonetheless there they were, sitting side by side in the ninth or tenth row and the cause of much strenuous neck-craning.
Enigma is a thriller for which you have to put on your thinking cap to fully enjoy. Tom Stoppard's script employs a very complex and highly detailed plot that I found personally fascinating, if a bit challenging. The target audience is obviously the over-30 crowd. I can't imagine the Dude, Where's My Car? crowd having much patience or interest in such a highly cerebral package.
The story is partly - largely? - based on fact. Dougray Scott plays a dweeby, unshaven, but undeniably brilliant British code-breaker who, aided by a plucky war department secretary played by a mousy-looking Kate Winslet, manages to untangle a complex mystery involving possible domestic traitors and a mass execution of Polish solders by Russian troops that leads to the cracking of a newly instituted Nazi transmission code. Northam plays a snide and insinuating government agent who makes trouble for Scott and Winslet all the way through.
Maybe I'm just not smart enough, but I found it difficult here and there to process and sort out the myriad details and plot twists. But I enjoyed the exercise. There is also, to placate those with simpler minds and tastes, a fair amount of action-thriller clichés - a car chase, a shootout, explosions, a nude scene with a beautiful actress (i.e., Saffron Burrows), a boorish bureaucrat getting decked with a well-deserved right cross, and so on.
The response to Enigma was somewhere between admiring and appreciative. But there was no ambiguity about the excitement in the hall when Jagger, preceded a horde of photographers and video crews, began making his way down the right aisle. Dressed in a bright blue suit, Jagger also got the biggest applause when the filmmakers took the stage after the showing.
It was hell trying to get a shot of Jagger as he came into the theater. Publicists and security goons kept telling me to move, step aside, etc. I was barked at and then yanked out of a group of photographers at one point, at the behest of Jagger's reps. There was a Park City cop who seemed especially angry and upset about my transgression. His upper lip was almost quivering with rage.
January 2, 20001 -- Review by Geoffrey Gilmore (Positive, No Spoilers):
Directed by Michael Apted, U.S.A., 2000, 118 minutes, Color
With a nod to the espionage thriller of the 1940s, director Michael Apted has shaped a tense, intelligent, and sexy drama that is as thoroughly entertaining as it is elusive. Stories that are enjoyable are often presumed to be mindless, but Apted and screenwriter Tom Stoppard, who adapted the best-selling novel by Robert Harris, achieve a perfect balance in this masterfully deft depiction of one of the truly crucial turning points of World War II.
It is March 1943, and the elite team of code breakers who have been assembled outside of London face a monumental responsibility. Their worst nightmare has come true: The Nazis have unexpectedly changed the Enigma code that makes their communications ultrasecure and the location of roving packs of U-boats undiscoverable. A huge convoy of merchant shipping is on its way across the Atlantic, and 10,000 men are in dire peril if the code can't be broken. And it can't be, for its indecipherability lies in the fact that the code changes each time it's used. Tom Jericho is the standout genius in a coterie of mathematicians who must overcome impossible odds, but his heart has been broken by the seductive and mysterious Claire, who then disappears. Her housemate, Hester, can be enlisted to help solve the puzzle, but is there a spy in their midst?
Produced by Mick Jagger and Lorne Michaels, and featuring the alluring Saffron Burrows, an impressive performance by Dougray Scott, and an appealing and convincing turn by Kate Winslet, Enigma reaffirms the viability and endless versatility of the classic genre film.
Review by 'Frank TJ Mackey' (Positive, No Spoilers):
Would the real Michael Apted spy movie please stand up? Coming off the latest dreadful Bond film, British filmmaker Michael Apted's latest film is a sure winner for upscale arthouse fans who want something shaken and to be stirred. Enigma is about an expert Nazi codebreaker (Dougray Scott), who can figure out incredibly complex messages between German U-boats, but is even more perplexed about his love affair to a beautiful woman(Saffron Burrows).
When his lover mysteriously vanishes, Scott enlists her roommate (Kate Winslet) to help find her, and they both learn that the woman they knew was not what she seemed. Also on the prowl is a detective who knows more than he is telling (Jeremy Northam). And while this is all happening, the Allies are working around the clock to try and prevent a much-needed convoy of supply ships from being blown to bits by the lurking subs in the North Atlantic.
Michael Apted, along with co-writer Tom Stoppard, have made a complicated film that features a luscious English countryside featuring some beautiful cinematography while also juxtaposing the grit and horror of naval warfare and the despair of Europe at war. Stoppard deploys some of his most complex plotting this side of his critically lauded Arcadia. This is a very difficult film to follow, yet it all makes sense in the end.
The performances are all outstanding, and it was great to see Kate Winslet play such a pre-Titanic part without pride or vanity - there are a few scenes where she looks plump in a Hollywood way. Dougray Scott is fantastic as a manic depressive, repressively handsome, genius. And Saffron Burrows has a very sexy scene where she discreetly rides Dougray; no women are allowed in his boarding room! Though the film was filled with temp tracks from Out of Africa, Bugsy, and Basic Instinct, there was also an original score in the beginning that was erotic, moody, and chilling.
And I am not even sharing the most interesting part: Mick Jagger produced the film and he was sitting in the back row! I was involved enough to forget about him. This film is like Map of the Human Heart and Smilla's Sense of Snow: it starts very slowly and familiar and grows into a complex epic story while remaining true to a modest production. But the really good news is: Enigma is able to do this in a way that works and remains credible through the last reel.
I am very interested to see what they do with this film. Will they hurry it for the Oscars of 2000, or will they let it rest and breath for a possible Cannes entry next May? Hopefully, the movie will be allowed to be finely trimmed and properly promoted to find its place on the shelves of quality cinema.
June 13, 2000 -- The Stax Report: Script Review of Enigma:
Stax here with my reaction to the screenplay for Enigma! This 112-page draft includes revised pages dated April 12th, 2000, which was only five days before principal photography commenced in the United Kingdom. The original February 21st, 2000 draft was written by Oscar winner Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love) with subsequent revisions made by Hannah Weg (who also penned the most recent adaptation of Criminal Conversation).
Enigma is adapted from Robert Harris' mystery novel of the same name. It is now filming under the direction of Michael Apted (The World Is Not Enough) and stars Dougray Scott (M:I-2), Kate Winslet, Saffron Burrows (Deep Blue Sea), Jeremy Northam (Mimic), Corin Redgrave, Nicholas Rowe, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Rocker Mick Jagger's company Jagged Edge is producing the film along with Saturday Night Live's Lorne Michaels and Broadway Video. Although no U.S. distributor has been secured yet, a 2001 release is expected.
Enigma is a romantic-thriller set in Britain during World War II. Brilliant but emotionally troubled cryptanalyst Tom Jericho (Scott) has returned to duty at the top secret Bletchley Park station after a controversial month-long respite. Tom had been having a brief but torrid affair with a fellow employee, the beautiful but "enigmatic" Claire Romilly (Burrows). Claire had numerous lovers at Bletchley Park and Tom, who didn't have much of a life since joining the war effort five years before, quickly became obsessed with her. When she broke off their affair, Tom grew despondent and assaulted his haughty superior Skynner (Redgrave?), an action that prompted his immediate removal from "Station X" for "medical reasons." But after only thirty days away, Tom Jericho is recalled to a now even more crisis-plagued Bletchley Park.
Tom, renowned for cracking the Nazis' earlier Enigma codes, must help decipher the Nazis' latest code before an armada of U-boats can attack a merchant shipping fleet carrying vital supplies. Just how did the Nazis gain this shocking newfound advantage in their intelligence? Obviously, there is a spy within Bletchley Park. Suspicion soon falls on Claire, who has been missing since the time the Nazi intelligence "blackout" began. But when evidence is discovered indicating that Claire was murdered, her (still obsessed) ex-lover Tom Jericho finds himself a suspect not only in her apparent death but also in possibly being the turncoat. Did Tom murder Claire? Was either of them the spy?
Tom sets out to crack the Nazis' new code with the assistance of Claire's innocent, bookish roommate Hester Wallace (Winslet), racing against time to unravel the mystery behind Claire's disappearance while also trying to prevent the Nazis' from attacking the vital merchant ships. Shadowing this unlikely duo is a cagey government operative named Wigram (Northam) who knows that they're up to something sneaky. Tom and Hester soon discover a vast conspiracy that reaches the highest levels of British government, as well as a growing attraction for each other.
Although I have yet to see it, I understand that U-571 covers some of the same ground as Enigma. Like the Robert Harris novel, U-571 is also concerned with the Nazi encryption devices that were held onboard U-boats. The Enigma machine was a brilliant invention that required some of the smartest minds in Britain in order to crack it. The problem with the Enigma device, which looked like a big typewriter with a Medusa's head of wires, is that the number of rotor positions it could be set to are almost infinite, thus making code-breaking virtually impossible. The British cryptanalysts, or code-breakers, had to use mathematics and "cribs" (clues derived from other Nazi messages and protocols) in order to crack the code.
Frankly, the science of all this code-breaking was quite mind-boggling and the script didn't try too hard to simplify things. In fact, the code-breaking sequences are so tediously complex that the story was often as indecipherable as a secret Nazi message. Given the late date of this draft, I figure that only on-set rewrites or future re-shoots can help make the plot clearer and more accessible to a mass audience. After Enigma, U-571, and the forthcoming Windtalkers, it is probably safe to assume that the code-breakers sub-genre of war movies will have run its course.
Overall, Stoppard and Weg did a decent job in addressing the two different plot lines (Tom's obsession with the missing Claire Romilly, and the code-breakers' race against time to decipher Enigma and save the merchant fleet). A good portion of Act Two focused on the code-breaking sub-plot; I became concerned that the screenplay had lost sight of the Tom-Claire relationship that was apparently so vital. But from the latter part of Act Two until the end, Claire's mysterious fate again became the focus of the story. Still, there were times when I became restless. The code-breaking plot line was dense with technical details and description. As with the many recent incarnations of Star Trek, characters exchanged a lot of jargon-filled chatter that I may not have often understood but their concerned reactions were enough to make me buy into all the drama.
By Act Three, the script became more and more expository. Several scenes consisted of characters standing around holding guns on each other and saying why they did what they did. It was very much like an old movie, especially film noir pictures, where one guy in a trench coat pulls a revolver on another guy in a trench coat and yammers, "Sorry, Johnny, but this is how it has to be. I had to do it, you see, I had to
", etc. As a confused reader, I appreciated the storytellers erring on the side of caution and just spilling the beans; but as a writer, I recognized that the story had now become rather contrived.
Claire's affair with Tom, like so much of Enigma, is related in flashback. The first fifteen pages alone were very difficult to understand because of the all the inter-cutting between various memories. The images and clues that were revealed in these scenes are eventually explained, the flashbacks having been used primarily to relate Tom's affair with Claire and to introduce the elements of the grand conspiracy that Tom and Hester would discover later.
Claire, seen mostly in flashback, is one of those characters that everyone in a story says is so important and colorful but whose on-screen actions don't seem all that memorable. Much of the success of her character will depend on Saffron Burrows; hopefully, she will give Claire more dimension than was evident on the page. Claire reminded me of Greta Scacchi's character in Presumed Innocent. Like that doomed mistress, Claire is the sexually promiscuous, captivating woman in the hero's otherwise bland, workaholic life. Her tragic end casts suspicion on the protagonist. As with Harrison Ford's jealous ex-lover in Presumed Innocent, Tom Jericho's behavior makes him the likeliest suspect in her murder and, like Rusty Sabich, Tom's brooding triggers off flashbacks to his tumultuous affair. How far Tom may have gone to win Claire's love, and how far he went to keep from losing her, is what drove this mystery forward.
There were also shades of Alfred Hitchcock's films here. Claire's tragic party girl with a past reminded me somewhat of Ingrid Bergman in Notorious. And Claire's haunting presence throughout the entire story also recalled the never-seen title character in Rebecca, whose mysterious death overshadowed all that transpired. Hester reminded me of the frumpy female sidekicks that "Hitch" would have sidle up to his male heroes. If Tom Jericho is like James Stewart in Vertigo, which this story owes a lot to, then Claire is Kim Novak and Hester is Barbara Bel Geddes. Even more so than the forthcoming "Hitchcockian" film Phone Booth, Enigma warrants such artsy comparisons.
Unlike the James Bond series or the Mission: Impossible films, Enigma is more like the spy flicks of yesteryear that relied on plot machinations rather than action sequences. That is why the script's mano a mano finale is so at odds with the rest of the story; there is also an inexplicable car chase in the middle of Act Two. The climax has Jericho in a fist fight aboard a motorboat while bombers and U-boats close in; this ending was more akin to Face/Off than to an old-fashioned spy yarn.
My biggest fear about Enigma is that the final film will suffer from terminal inertia not unlike Tom Stoppard's prior adaptation of a best-selling romantic thriller, The Russia House. I have tried to sit through that film three times now but have fallen asleep each time. While I like its cast and appreciate its intellectual qualities, there is no denying that The Russia House is just downright boring and confusing. It never quite lived up to its potential given all the talent involved. This could easily happen with Enigma if the filmmakers don't keep the audience emotionally involved with the characters.
What I appreciated most about Enigma was that its protagonists were smart but flawed people who relied on their wits and skills in order to succeed. How many other genre films lately have had a mathematician as the hero?! Even though its plot often stymied me, I enjoyed Enigma for its intrigue and moody tone. The subject matter was rich and the depiction of behind-the-scenes life at Bletchley Park was fascinating for a history buff like myself. Enigma is one of several screenplays I have reviewed recently that were adaptations of books that I haven't yet read. But unlike The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or Danger Girl, Enigma made me want to read the original source material. That is one of the many goals of any film adaptation and this script succeeded at that. While I still harbor specific grievances about this script, I believe that fans of cerebral thrillers will likely enjoy Enigma.
May 8, 2000 -- From the folks at Cinematic Happenings Under Development:
Smilin' Jack Ruby stopped by with this script review for the Dougray Scott/Kate Winslet espionage thriller from director Michael Apted, Enigma. Take a look:
I know that Engima is currently underway with shooting in England, but as it's not out yet, I thought I'd submit this script review that has revisions in it as late as April 7, 2000 done by Hanna Weg, a first-timer who's only previous imdb credit was as an assistant to the director of By the Sword. Enigma was initially adapted from the Robert Harris book by playwright extraordinare Tom Stoppard and is being directed by Michael Apted of 42 Up and The World is Not Enough fame. Acting in it are Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Saffron Burrows, Jeremy Northam, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.
The idea of the Enigma machine and the fact that it was used to encrypt German U-Boat communications during the war is nothing new to American audiences with the recent release of U-571. However, Enigma takes a look at it from the side of the English and how they went about cracking the many different versions of the Enigma code, Shark, Dolphin, Kestrel, etc. as it came in from not only submarines, but also from the Wehrmacht stationed across Europe as well as Luftwaffe communiques. The plot of Enigma takes place at Bletchley Park where the numerous teams of mathematicians worked on the code and is actually being filmed there.
The story follows the return of Tom Jericho to Bletchley Park after spending a month away following a breakdown. Jericho is seen as a genius, the only man who could break Shark, but also something of a loose cannon for striking his senior officer and for having a breakdown over the break-up of his relationship with Claire - a mysterious and beautiful woman who works at Bletchley Park as an assistant doing translations with a fleet of women. Jericho has been recalled because, out of the blue, the Germans have changed their code and with the large number of convoys coming across the Atlantic, the Allies are at their mercy. Coinciding with Jericho's return is the disappearance of Claire. As Jericho works against time to crack the new version of Shark, he also begins to investigate exactly who Claire is (a spy? a trollope?) and does so with the aid of the crafty Hester, a housemate of Claire's who isn't seen as being as markedly beautiful as Claire, despite being played by Kate Winslet in the movie.
That's not too much information - trust me. There's nothing there that will give away anything in the movie. I believe, judging from photos posted on the internet, that Dougray Scott will be playing Jericho and I believe Nikolaj Coster-Waldau will be playing one of Jericho's main associates at Bletchley, Puck - though that's just speculation. Saffron Burrows will likely be playing Claire, but I'm not sure who Jeremy Northam will be playing, but most likely the British secret police operative, Wigram.
This will end up being a fairly lively movie, but is definitely not an action picture, just in case anybody got the wrong idea. There are battle scenes out in the North Atlantic, but they are fairly brief. Mostly, this is a cat-and-mouse codebreaking movie with Jericho and Hester acting as the Bobbsey Twins and everyone else acting like they came straight out of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. If anyone has seen the play/television film Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitemore starring Derek Jacobi which is based on the life of the actual genius codebreaker, Alan Turing, you'll get your semi-historical accuracies. Enigma, because it was a potboiler novel by Robert Harris (remember the TV-movie Fatherland?) it has a lot of the feel of a page-turning mystery/suspense thriller that keeps rollicking along and relies more on intrigue than action to keep the reader hooked. The closest Stoppard ever came to something like this was with Hapgood, his tale of Cold War spygames and the scientists caught in between.
All in all, this will probably be a fun movie to watch, but it certainly won't be breaking any box office records.
Special thanks to Sylvia of Dougray Scott in Focus and Tamara of Dougray Scott dot com - An Unofficial Website for Actor Dougray Scott - they both found this and alerted me.