Movie Details
Recommendation

Enigma (2001)

 
 

Breaking the Hitchcock Code

Dougray Scott as Thomas Jericho in Enigma (2001)

As a Brit I am well aware of the work the code breakers did at Bletchley Park during WWII to decipher Nazi codes with the Enigma machine, it is that which first drew me to watch "Enigma". That first time I watched it was a disappointment because whilst set in the world of the code breakers "Enigma" is a fictional thriller which whilst drawing on facts and characters is not focussed upon the work these code breakers did. Having recently re-watched it I suddenly grasped what "Enigma" was, a thriller which Alfred Hitchcock would have directed with an innocent man, suspicion, treachery and a series of scenes which sees him end up in Scotland as he tries to get to the bottom of a mystery. It is when you approach it as such, a Hitchcock style thriller that it becomes watchable, not by any means great but entertaining.

Months after being sent back to Cambridge following a nervous breakdown, top mathematician Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott - Mission: Impossible II) is recalled to the code breaker facility as the Nazi's have changed the code system he helped crack and they need him to work his magic again especially as several ships are on course to sail into U-Boat territory. But being back at Bletchley brings memories of Claire (Saffron Burrows) flooding back, the beautiful blonde he fell for and who lead to him having a breakdown. But with Claire having mysteriously disappeared Tom with the help of her friend Hester Wallace (Kate Winslet - Holy Smoke) discover that Claire may have been passing on top secret information to someone and set about working out what she was up to whilst he also tries to solve the Nazi's new code all the time under a cloud of suspicion as the mysterious Wigram (Jeremy Northam) won't leave him alone.

Kate Winslet as Hester Wallace in Enigma (2001)

So as already mentioned whilst "Enigma" takes its basis from the work of the code breakers at Bletchley Park during WWII it is not a dramatization of what they did but a fictional thriller which incorporates some facts. As such whilst we do get to see various aspects of the code breaking work and the colossal computer used to decipher Nazi codes it is hard to know how much of that, the paper work trail and so on is actually factual or just fictional ideas to make the story work. It does mean that "Enigma" is disappointing if you watch it in the hope of learning more about what went on at Bletchley Park.

But get beyond that disappointment and "Enigma" is very much a thriller in the mould of a Hitchcock thriller. We may have Tom Jericho a mathematician who constantly looks like he is about to have another breakdown but basically he is our innocent man determined to uncover the truth about his former lover and whether she was a traitor. Alongside Tom we have the helper in Hester who naturally will become a love interest and then there is the element of suspicion as we are never sure who is a good guy especially when it comes to the smarmy Wigram who seems to enjoy trying to get under Tom's skin. It plays out quite nicely with a few twists and some drama including a car chase scene down a country lane and an action climax up in Scotland as Tom unravels exactly what has been going on. Is it as good as a Hitchcock movie? Not quite because it lacks atmosphere but it is a solid attempt to do Hitchcock without remaking one of his movies.

As for the acting well Dougray Scott is impressive as Tom Jericho from start to finish because physically he looks like a man who any moment is going to collapse in a corner having another nervous breakdown. Scott also works well with Kate Winslet who as Hester is unfortunately saddled with a bit of a shallow character but also glasses which make her look like a relation to Harry Potter. But it is Jeremy Northam as Wigram who impresses because you are never sure about him, is he a good guy, is he the bad guy; he certainly has an air of confidence and danger about him which keeps us on our toes.

What this all boils down to is that don't watch "Enigma" if you are only interested in the work of the code breakers because it only uses it as a basis for a fictional thriller. But if you are a fan of Hitchcock thrillers it is worth a watch because it is very much a movie in his style and is not bad when approached as such.

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