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Enigma review

There's no doubting the high calibre of those involved in this retro-spy yarn: from the source material (Robert Harris' involving bestseller) and scriptwriter Tom Stoppard, to director Michael Apted and a talented young cast that includes rising star Dougray Scott and established cast-topper Winslet. So the biggest enigma is: why doesn't this work?

The release of Enigma now is certainly well-timed, not least because of the sustained interest in World War Two flicks and the fact that today's computer-literate audiences should be intrigued by the brains of Bletchley Park, who invented the first computer as code-breaking machine. And why not hark back to a genre which gave us the complex, compelling and sometimes seamy spy stories like The 39 Steps, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and The Ipcress File, tales of double-dealing, polished vowels and espionage gobbledy-gook?

Yet despite the pedigree and the timing, Enigma is dull, confusing, plot-hole ridden and utterly forgettable. Director Michael Apted's approach seems to have been to underwhelm. The result is too wordy, too earnest, too `period' and just too damned hard to follow. Note that the page-turning quality of the novel often involved turning the pages back as well as forward, in order to understand the intricacies of the code-breaking process crucial to the plot. But Stoppard, whose reputation is founded on the elegant communication of complicated ideas, singularly fails this time around. We spend too much time scratching our heads, trying to catch up with Dougray Scott and Kate Winslet as they dash from one unfathomable clue to the next.

There are some things to enjoy. Winslet, drabbing it down in mousey hair, thick glasses and the bulk of her then-pregnancy, is funny and engaging, and while you may not know how they do it, there is a touch of excitement as the boffin-eccentrics of Station X finally break the Enigma code. Best of all is the scene-stealing Jeremy Northam - - debonair and sly, and really embodying the spirit of the '50s and '60s movie that this pays homage to. But the sad fact is that both Winslet and Northam - - the meatiest performers on show - - are annoyingly underused.

The focus, instead, is on Scott, who misfires as Enigma's fucked-up hero. Arguably, he plays it too well, as it's the fact that Jericho is such a gloom-ridden nerd that prevents him from ever winning our sympathy. And that sums up the whole problem with this old-fashioned spyster: the boffins of Bletchley are unsung heroes, but they're hardly glamorous ones.

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