Our rating: 3 out of 5
A fascinating wartime spy film that unfolds like the delicate mystery it is, Enigma is brilliant. It's not difficult to see why the critics gave it such high praise. With a stellar cast including Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam, Dougray Scott, and Saffron Burrows, the film carries along at a rapid pace like a good detective novel, using flashbacks to illustrate moments when characters discover what they have overlooked. It's also a movie which demands more than one viewing to enable the audience to pick up on all they missed the first time around. Still, it could have done without the brief sexual content.
Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott) is a legend at the war department, for he invented the machine which interprets the German encoded messages of a small transmitter called 'Enigma.' After having a nervous breakdown (his close friends call it 'working himself into the ground,' those who hate him blame on a blonde), he's been sent back to Cambridge University for six months' recovery. Now he's been called back to Bletchley Park to help sort out a new set of codes. Two days before, the German intercepts changed their code book, which renders the English-American allies incapable of decoding Shark, the U-boat correspondence. Enigma is a clever little device with a number of plug-holes, a typewriter-like set of keys, and several rotating numerical wheels which when set at random can scramble messages beyond recognition, reducing the odds of the enemy translating them to over a million to one. The U-boat's Enigma machine has an extra set of plugs which enables it to magnify the odds to over a billion to one.
This unexpected change in codes has sent the English seaboard scrambling for answers, fully realizing that there's a fleet of German submarines patrolling the North Atlantic. Their own fleet of merchant ships are sitting ducks, perhaps sailing toward the largest gathering of U-boats in wartime. They've sent an envoy to the war department (Matthew MacFadyen) to learn if it's possible to translate these new set of messages in forty eight hours. Tom responds it would take a miracle; it's impossible without knowing the proper key codes. They need a 'crib' -- some basic knowledge of what the messages are about -- before they can program his massive Enigma machine to narrow the odds. Lingering in the background is an official military investigator, Wigram (Jeremy Northam), sent to souse out a 'mole' in the agency. His prime suspect is a young lady by the name of Claire Romilly (Saffron Burrows) who works with the German book. (She types translated German messages into their book of code words.)
Claire was involved with Tom before his breakdown and has now mysteriously disappeared. Her roommate Hester Wallace (Kate Winslet) hasn't seen her for several days. She's officially 'missing.' Tom is also eager to learn what happened to her for personal reasons, but discovers something horrifying in her room... stolen government papers. The signs point to Claire being responsible for this change in the German codes, but it's impossible she could be a spy... or is it? Together, Tom and Hester set out to find Claire before Wigram does. But time is running short. They have four days to unscramble the codes before their fleet of merchant ships will be in danger. Wigram even suspects Tom of some treachery. But what is the truth in the midst of all these lies? What happened to Claire? Can they break the new transmitting code? What does Wigram really want? These questions are given revealing answers as the two-hour mystery unfolds in the midst of WWII. The film moves along at a measured pace and is an intelligent thriller that demands constant attention and repeat viewings. It's at times difficult to follow and there are some loose ends, but overall it's a brilliant piece of work with beautiful performances and a memorable musical score.
The acting is quite good. Saffron Burrows is memorable as Claire Romily, the woman who can look into a man's eyes and captivate him beyond redemption. Kate Winslet drops all pretense and has fun with her role as the film's 'plain Jane,' Hester, who arguably also has some of the best wit of the piece. Dougray Scott is believable as Tom Jerico, and the supporting cast including Tom Hollander and Matthew MacFadyen, turn out well, particularly in the last hour. But it's Jeremy Northam's cunning, mysterious and often sinister performance as Wigram that really steals the show. His intimidating presence dominates whatever scene he appears in, and the audience half-fears, half-admires his ingenuity, particularly when we realize he's been three steps ahead of our armature duo all along. In between many familiar faces the story keeps a fairly good pace, although some might find it dull because there's very little hand to hand combat. There is some non-graphic violence, mainly ships and submarines going up in flames under attack.
A fistfight erupts over a gun, which goes off several times without wounding anyone. A mass grave is dug up, exposing non-graphic corpses. But like any other wartime film, Enigma makes up for this lack of brutal violence in other areas. Four sexually-used f-words make their way into the dialogue. There's also one use of GD, three of Christ, and many mild profanities and British slang. Wigram implies Claire regularly slept around, which she did. In a flashback, Miss Wallace remembers her dancing around in a short slip and pantyhose. Passionate kissing is involved on several occasions. In another set of flashbacks, Claire asks to come up into Tom's room and implies she'll be as 'quiet as a mouse' to keep the landlady from waking up. Then comes the aforementioned sex scene, which is brief (around thirty seconds long) but fairly graphic and involves obvious partial nudity, moaning, and movement. I would recommend fast-forwarding it. In the scene that follows, Claire walks around with only one of Tom's shirts on. She steals something out of his drawer and he gets up to wrestle it back; we partially see his bare backside off to the side and blurry. There's also some drinking and smoking. It's a pity that foul language and brief sexual content take Enigma's audience for a ride because otherwise the film is a truly fascinating wartime drama.