"A rose is just plain text," cryptologist Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott) tells
Claire Romilly (Saffron Burrows), his blonde beauty. Since that sounds like a
geeky version of Shakespeare, you'll probably not be surprised to learn that
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE's Tom Stoppard penned ENIGMA's script. Working from
Stoppard's literate screenplay, director Michael Apted (THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH
and the 7UP documentary series) crafts a wartime thriller and romance that
rivals last year's Oscar winner, A BEAUTIFUL MIND, in its fascinating depiction
of scientists toiling away on nearly intractable problems.
Set in early World War II after the British were already in possession of
Germany's supposedly unbreakable Enigma coding machine, the story concerns a
major kink put in the works by the Germans. Code-named Shark, the Germans had
produced the "ultimate refinement of Enigma." Since it took England's best
mathematicians ten months to crack the original Enigma and since the improvement
produced billions times billions more combinations, it isn't at all clear how
long the brainiacs will need to solve the Shark puzzle. With the Allies
shipping a million tons of supplies a week to Britain and with U-boat packs
prowling undetected, the code cracking has the war effort's highest urgency.
A parallel and related storyline to the big code-breaking attempt concerns
Claire, who goes missing. Claire has spy written all over her, and Wigram
(Jeremy Northam), a slightly slimy intelligence officer, figures that there is a
spy in Bletchley Park where the cryptologists work. Wigram is suspicious of
Claire and of every man with whom she has slept, which turns out to be just
about everyman who knows the value of pi. Northam, turning in another brilliant
performance rather akin to his one in THE WINSLOW BOY, steals every scene he's
in. Also quite good is Kate Winslet, as Hester Wallace, Tom's able detective
assistant in activities that could get them both shot. Tom and Hester decide to
single-handedly solve the mystery of Claire's disappearance
"I like numbers because they take you close to the secret of who you are," Tom
tells Claire when she is having trouble understanding what makes him tick. And
I love movies that assume the audience is intelligent enough to explore
scientific endeavors without dumbing it down to the lowest common denominator.
ENIGMA has enough enigmas hidden within it to make its title especially apropos.
They're all fascinating enigmas, well worth your time.
ENIGMA runs 1:57. It is rated R for "a sex scene and language" and would be
acceptable for teenagers.
Copyright © 2002 Steve Rhodes