||Starry names fail to crack the code
SF Said is distinctly underwhelmed by Mick Jagger's debut as a film producer
IT is a regrettable but enduring truth that British films tend to be the weakest link at Edinburgh. This year there were high hopes for Enigma, from Robert Harris's book about the Bletchley Park code-crackers of the Second World War.
Code breaker: Kate Winslet lacks the winning formula
Mick Jagger's debut as a film producer, it had Michael Apted at the helm; a script from Tom Stoppard; starry names including Kate Winslet and Dougray Scott.
The results, however, are distinctly underwhelming. Scott lacks the charisma to carry the film, which also suffers from unimaginative dramatisations of its chief activity. Code-breaking may be gripping stuff in a novel, but on screen, all we see are characters scribbling on pieces of paper.
Enigma is especially disappointing in that it is a rare attempt to make British cinema on a large scale. The Warrior does this on a fraction of the budget. It is the feature film debut of BBC director Asif Kapadia, an epic story about a warrior who turns his back on killing.
It feels like a classic tale, working on the same mythical plane as the best westerns. Kapadia has the confidence to use largely visual narrative and benefits from breathtaking desert and Himalayan settings.
Danny Boyle (The Beach) has returned to his roots in TV films. The festival premiered Strumpet and Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise, both written by Jim Cartwright (Little Voice). They see Boyle on fine form, using Dogme cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle to create a distinctive world. But it is perplexing why he should deploy all this craft on such scripts. Cartwright's style is an uneasy blend of grit and fable; even actors as good as Timothy Spall and Christopher Ecclestone cannot redeem the flips from "It's grim up North" cliche to improbable fantasy.
Mention should, finally, be made of Andrew Kotting's This Filthy Earth. This astonishingly visceral allegory is the most original British film on show here, and for that alone, richly deserves an audience.
Dougray Scott and Kate Winslet
A film faithful to our wartime heroism?
...It's all thanks to Mick Jagger, reports Garth Pearce, who snubbed Hollywood and chose an all-British team to make Enigma
Enigma is released on September 28
Mick Jagger is the king of rock'n'roll survivors. No star has been doing it longer or louder. He is the biggest rebel, the beast of the music jungle, the man who won't grow up. But how about this for a shock? At 58, the man who once declared he was Jumping Jack Flash has come out as a true-blue patriot, the producer of a film, Enigma, that gives no quarter to Hollywood's love of hijacking stories of British heroism and rewriting them to glorify America.
Photograph: Jaap Buitendijk
For six years, Jagger resisted pressure from the big film studios to let them make Enigma, based on the true story of Britain's triumph in breaking the codes of Nazi Germany's high command. Instead, he has finally got the film made in England, set in a Brylcreemed age when honour mattered, with a line-up of some of our own leading actors, such as Kate Winslet, Dougray Scott and Jeremy Northam.
"I was told I would get the film made immediately if I changed it to an American story," says Jagger. "But how could you transplant this to somewhere like Philadelphia? It would have been a joke." Anything is possible, of course. Last year, Hollywood produced a successful film, U-571, in which the capture of an Enigma machine by HMS Aubretia on May 9, 1941 - before America entered the war - was rewritten as a triumph for the US Navy, with the hunky Texan Matthew McConaughey as the intrepid captain of the rescuing team.
"I am not against artistic licence, but let's stick to some facts," snorts Jagger dismissively. "I have always been surprised how regularly we have given away our history, only for American film-makers to claim it as their own. After that, it seems to become truth.
People remember what they've seen at the movies, rather than what they read in books. I was determined, from the start, that this would not happen with Enigma."
This is Jagger's debut film as a producer, through his company, Jagged Films, which bought the rights to the Robert Harris bestseller set among the code and cipher experts at Bletchley Park, Bucks - Britain's top-secret Station X. "The story is set in 1943, the year I was born," Jagger says. "The Official Secrets Act made sure nobody knew about the codebreakers' work until the 1970s. I had not known anything about it until I read the book. It was one of the last secrets of the war, which I found fascinating. It was worth the effort to get it made, but it has dominated so much of my life."
That life does not seem to have slowed in the process. His latest ex-girlfriend, Sophie Dahl, 24, is almost young enough to be his granddaughter. He's been preparing for the Rolling Stones' 40th anniversary next year with an ambitious world tour. He's been caught up in the maze of settling financial obligations to ex-wives, girlfriends and children. And he's been in the recording studio, putting down tracks for his latest solo album, which will include his first duet since his 1985 No 1 with David Bowie, Dancing in the Street, this time with U2's frontman, Bono.
But when we met, the only tracks that concerned him lay underneath an old- fashioned steam train as it rolled into sidings in the heart of the Leicestershire countryside. The only women were extras with hair teased into 1940s fashions, looking dumpy beneath heavy wartime clothes in unflattering brown and dark green. For once, he looked his age, in a cable-knit petrol-blue jumper and sports jacket, and there was no street-smart talk or mockney accent. He has allowed the grey to emerge in his trademark mop; and, close to, without stage make-up or the careful lighting of a photographic studio, you can see deep lines etched into his face, as if the strains of staying so thin for so long have taken their toll.
Michael Apted with Mick Jagger
Vanity did kick in at one point, when he wanted to phone his personal publicist to check on whether he should talk at all. Someone tactfully pointed out that this was not 1966 any more, and he was a couple of years short of his 60th birthday. He was also a film producer, and could make decisions for himself. Once that was over, he seemed far more relaxed in his new role as a rebel with a cause.
"It's all been a bit knackering," he admits. "A film never stops. There is still the editing, the music and the marketing to go, even when we finish here. There's also the question: what next? I have more to buy, more things I've written, outlines of stories, and I don't know what is going to be first. I am just in the middle of trying to option a bestseller. I sometimes wonder why I'm working so hard to do it all."
Why indeed? "I was not exactly talked into starting a film company, but so many people said I should," he says. "I've acted in a few films, and I have been interested since the days when I went to college film clubs. But if I had been left to my own devices, it would never have happened. Although I am hard-working, I am also slightly lazy, which I have constantly had to fight against. So, I would have said: 'Sounds good - but I can't be bothered.'
Eventually, I was sitting around in LA and one of these guys in the movie business offered me a deal. I thought: 'It seems fated that I should get involved.'" Then pride took over. He bought the rights to the Harris book and hired Tom Stoppard, who won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love, to fashion a script, and Michael Apted, fresh from making the last Bond film, The World Is Not Enough, as director. He also talked himself to a standstill.
"My name may be enough for people to take a phone call from me - but it won't make the deal work," he says. "I kept coming up against the American side of things. I can understand why so many scripts end up being told from their angle, because the pressure and temptations can be so great. Fortunately, I could afford to hold out. I don't need to worry about paying the rent."
He also wanted to stick with the leading man he had personally selected. "If the Americans were doing this, they would have some great-looking hero figure as the lead," he says. "I am not saying Dougray Scott is not good-looking, but he has to play a fairly weedy-looking maths genius. He lost more than 20lb for the part, and was prepared to look as if he lived his life through figures on a page. I knew him from Ever After [he played the prince to Drew Barrymore's Cinderella], because my kids dragged me along. I also saw him play the muscle-bound villain in Mission Impossible 2, in which he was great. But this is the hallmark of good-quality British actors - they can play anyone and anything."
Enigma faithfully follows the Harris mixture of fiction and fact. The facts include the work at Bletchley itself, opened by the government amid much secrecy in 1938, a year before the war: 12,000 people would be employed there. The Enigma machine was the main coding device used by the German armed forces and rail system. They never discovered that, after a machine was captured from a U-boat by the British, a vast team of math- ematicians, linguists, electrical engineers and intelligence specialists at Bletchley managed to break the codes. Their work was used to help shorten the war by many months.
Enigma (both novel and film) takes this backdrop and gives it the fictional spin of a crisis for the Bletchley team: an unexpected change by Nazi U-boats of the code by which they communicate with each other and
German high command. A merchant-shipping convoy from America, crossing the Atlantic with 10,000 passengers and vital supplies, is in danger of attack. The authorities turn for help to the one man who can save them: Tom Jericho (Scott), a brilliant but flawed mathematician.
He is brought back to Bletchley despite having had a nervous breakdown following a broken love affair with the beautiful Claire (Saffron Burrows), who has disappeared at the very point there have been fears of a spy at work at the Park. To try to solve both mysteries, Jericho enlists the help of the plain Hester (Kate Winslet), Claire's best friend. Together, they keep one step ahead of the secret services as they investigate Claire's mysterious life, an international cover-up and betrayal.
Although unlikely to be a blockbuster hit, it is an absorbing film, immaculately acted, and one that delivers an authentic story through the cobwebs of time. And it is clear that Jagger's commitment earned admirers. The director, Apted, says: "He has not sold this story down the river, which would have been very easy to do. As a result, I was not subjected to studio interference, along the lines of them ordering script rewrites, recasting or scenes being reshot. I could just get on with it."
Dougray Scott was handed the same luxury, and wasted no time in preparing for the role. He went on a cabbage-soup diet to trim the weight, and started to think how he would play a mathematical nerd. "Jericho does not care about his appearance," he says. "So I had wardrobe put holes in his trousers and button things up not quite right. The character's father died when he was six, so I thought he would have kept his father's battered trilby. I carry it around all the time, not to wear, but to use as a comfort, because he's such a nervous character."
Such attention to detail wins approval from Jagger. "I believe in British films and British talent," he says. "It is no secret that we've had some of the best technicians and film crews for years. We are getting a crop of strong young actors coming through who are acceptable to Americans and American audiences. I am not against having an American actor in any future film, as long as they are good. Where it goes wrong is having to employ an American who is no good just to keep the financiers happy. I wished I could have made just one phone call and done the whole deal, but I couldn't."
He could have made one call, of course: to his own bank manager. But Jagger, canny as ever, would not be drawn on putting in money from his reputed £150m fortune. The finance for Enigma's £17.8m budget eventually came from a mixture of Dutch, British and - ironically - German sources. "I put in seed money, but not heavy stuff," he says, slightly awkwardly. "It is an absolute rule."
Perhaps he is more sensitive to finances than usual, having, in 1999, signed away his mansion in Richmond, Surrey, to Jerry Hall after their final break-up. She also took £7m and receives a monthly maintenance payment. So, what next? Will he return to the Venezuelan Vanessa Neumann (known as "The Cracker from Caracas")? Or to the socialite and novelist Ortensia Visconti? And what about the models Carla Bruni and Jana Rajlich?
"I make it a rule these days to keep my mouth shut on such things," says Jagger, with a thin smile. "Besides, compared to Enigma, none of it matters. Does it?"
Enigma is released on September 28
||Thanks for posting that piece - it was in todays Sunday Times Culture magazine supplement but I didnt imagine there'd be an online version
Glad to see Mick stuck to his guns re: the historical accuracy side of the book instead of whoring himself to Hollywood as most producers would have done - shows hes not SOLELY concerned with how much money he can make from each project