Tom Jericho, played with exceptional skill by rising star Dougray Scott, is the hero of "Enigma" (IMDb listing), an enthralling thriller that takes place during World War II-era Britain and centers on the legendary Nazi intelligence code, known as Enigma. Jericho is one of Britain's greatest minds and certainly the greatest code breaker at Bletchley Park, the real-life secret headquarters of Britain's code breaking operations during the war. Jericho, however, has been somewhat disgraced after suffering a nervous breakdownnot from trying to decipher the hardest code know to man and save the free world, but instead from his failed romance with Claire Romilly (Saffron Burrows).
Claire is a beautiful and brainy colleague at Bletchley who is shown primarily through flashbacks during the course of the movie. This is because she disappeared mysteriously from the ultra-secret compound right about the time that Tom returns to Bletchley post-breakdown. Director Michael Apted begins the film by showing bits and pieces of Claire and Tom's history while suddenly blending it with the present. Tom, shown in bright flashbacks with Claire, is confident, well-dressed and ruggedly handsome. In the present, with darker camera angles at work, Tom is obviously an emotional wreck, unshaven and frazzled. Even in the flashbacks, however, we begin to see that as brilliant as Tom is, he cannot come to grips with his intense feelings for Claire, which become the one problem he can't solve.
This premise makes a compelling character, illustrated by a sweet scene early in the movie where the daydreaming Tom, obviously sulking over Claire, is asked during a top secret meeting what in fact is so special about Enigma that Allies cannot break it. Tom's eyes immediately light up and his frown becomes a confident grin. He coolly explains that the Enigma code is rendered through a machine with which there are "150 million million million ways" of reading the code. Now, he has a problem he can solve. Now, Jericho is in his element.
The minute Tom returns to Bletchley, the pressure amasses with lightning speed. First, he quickly realizes that many at Bletchley consider him an embarrassment and don't want him around. Then he's told by top military intelligence that he and his team must crack the Enigma code again within two days because the Nazis altered Enigma and German U-Boats are threatening the Atlantic Allied fleet. Why did the Nazi's suddenly change it? Because there's a spy at Bletchley who informed the Nazis that Tom and his colleagues had in fact solved the code. On top of that, Tom discovers that Claire is missing and begins to suspect that she may be the spy.
It's a lot to deal with in the first 20 minutes of the film, and Apted films the movie with a sense of desperation. The suspense is built even more with the addition of Wigram (Jeremy Northam), a British intelligence operative investigating the supposed spy at Bletchley and who is focusing on Tom and Claire. Just when it seems the world is going to cave in on Tom and lead to another inevitable breakdown, Hester Wallace shows up.
Hester (Kate Winslet) is another Bletchley expert and former roommate of Claire's. Winslet is barely recognizable at first, playing a slightly chubby, spectacled intellectual who appears to have a soft spot for Tom and decides to help him find Claire and as a result, solve the Bletchley mystery.
Without the presence of Winslet's Hester, Tom might not have emerged as a hero. Hester, not nearly as beautiful as Claire but twice as charming and genuine, somehow brings out the best in Tom. Winslet, who always gives a worthy performance, delivers a gem here. She was pregnant during the film, which coincided with her overweight character. But even underneath ugly clothing, excess weight and gruesome glasses, Winslet still conveys a charisma that is undeniable. Hester becomes the perfect compliment to the awkward Tom. Some of the best scenes in the movie focus on the tension and developing emotions between Tom and Hester. In fact, the one noticeable drawback in the movie is that it's so consumed with the dynamic between its two lead characters that the Enigma mystery becomes an afterthought.
Despite this flaw, I found "Enigma" to be an excellent film. The makers of "Enigma" could write a manual on how to construct a classy, effective thriller.
Filmfodder Grade: A-