Enigma

Enigma, from Robert Harris' best-selling spy novel, is the first film from Mick Jagger's company, Jagged Films. From all reports, the rocker was more than a figurehead: He brought the novel to the attention of Tom Stoppard, the British playwright and Oscar-winning screenwriter (Shakespeare in Love), and shepherded the film (in conjunction with Broadway Video) through all stages. It's a striking debut. Jagger, born in 1943 — the year in which the film is set — has an avid interest in Bletchley Park, the headquarters for British code breakers during World War II. He even purchased an Enigma code-breaking machine, used by the German navy at the time, that became a prop in the film.

It's attention to detail that raises Enigma above the herd of spy thrillers. It's paying attention to detail that makes Enigma more demanding than the usual Hollywood spin on the subject. But stay with it. Jagger, Stoppard and director Michael Apted (he took James Bond for a whirl in The World Is Not Enough) deliver a riveting and surprisingly romantic ride.

Dougray Scott (Mission: Impossible 2) anchors the film with a canny, complex performance as mathematician Tom Jericho, a star code breaker at Bletchley Park. That is, until a failed love affair — she dumped him — with co-worker Claire Romilly (gorgeous Saffron Burrows) drives him to a nervous collapse. Jericho is considered a burnt-out case until the Nazis change their transmission code and he's called back in to decipher it.

Funny thing is, Claire has disappeared without a trace. Jericho's suspicions are further raised when he visits her house and finds German navy codes hidden under the floorboards. With the help of Claire's mousy roommate, Hester Wallace (Kate Winslet), who also works at Bletchley, Jericho tries to protect his former love from charges of treason and the interference of Wigram (Jeremy Northam), a British intelligence agent who thinks Claire is a mole.

Or does he? Enigma opens and slams so many doors, your head will be spinning. And I mean that in a good way. The film is mind-twisting fun, with first-rate performances. Winslet makes Hester's blossoming feelings for Jericho quietly touching, and Northam is a real smoothie, with the looks and style of a younger, nastier Cary Grant. Jagger deserves points for rolling the dice with this spy game. It's a drop of smart in an ocean of dumb.

From The Archives Issue 403: September 1, 1983