Film of the Book: Enigma

Directed by Michael Apted (2001)

Enigma poster

From the book review:

It’s 1943, and the Allies rely on the shipping convoys from the US to keep their battered countries fed and munitioned. The tide has been flowing in the Allies favour since the German Enigma codes were broken at Bletchley Park in the South of England. But now the Germans have changed the U-boat code, threatening not only individual convoys but the entire defeat of the Allied forces. Tom Jericho, hailed as one of the most brilliant codebreakers, is on a break, suffering from a combination of stress, overwork and a broken heart over a girl named Claire. But with this new threat, despite his fragile health, he’s urgently needed back in Bletchley. And when he gets there, he discovers Claire is missing…

You can read the full book review by clicking here.


Film of the Book


In my review, I described the novel as a masterclass in how to write a book, so the film had a high standard to reach. Unfortunately, this is one case where making a direct comparison worked significantly to the detriment of the film.

The first thing I noticed was how brightly shot and coloured the movie is. England looks like a green and pleasant land. Normally I’d appreciate this kind of visual treat, but the book shows a much bleaker England, where everything is cold and grey, where three years of war have taken their toll on the land and environment as much as on the people, who are tired and undernourished. The film mentions briefly the lack of normal foodstuffs, but gives no real feeling for the deprivations people were undergoing. The same applies to the cold – with coal rationing meaning that even indoors heating was barely adequate. In the film, the sun shines constantly. As a result, the atmosphere that Harris creates in the book of a country struggling to survive, desperate for the supplies sent from the US on shipping convoys, never really materialises.

Dougray Scott, Saffron Borrows and Kate Winslett as Jericho, Claire and Hester
Dougray Scott, Saffron Burrows and Kate Winslett as Jericho, Claire and Hester

While both Dougray Scott and Kate Winslett give fine performances, neither of them convinced me as the characters from the book. Scott is too old to be a man so thrown by losing his first love that he has a breakdown. One wonders why he has never been in love before, and also why he would have been naive enough to fall so heavily for Claire or believe that she had fallen for him. Winslett, one of my favourite actresses, is way too beautiful to be Hester. I had an urgent desire to tell Apted that sticking a pair of specs on a beautiful woman does not make her plain – I thought we’d got past that stereotype around about the same time as we came out of rationing.

Of course, it was important in the film that Hester was beautiful because the decision had been made, in typical Hollywood style, to have Jericho and Hester fall in love, and women, as we know, can only attract a man by being beautiful – in Hollywood. I don’t know whether that’s more insulting to men or women, in truth. But it did make me laugh that as she evolved into the love interest, Hester wore her specs less and less till eventually they disappeared altogether. Apparently it’s still true that men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses!

enigma 1

Apart from the insertion of the love story, the film sticks pretty closely to the underlying plot of the book, though in a somewhat abridged form due to time constraints. However, there are some major changes towards the end in the way the story plays out. I could understand why this had been done – the climax of the book doesn’t have the level of action we’ve come to expect from movie thrillers – and it didn’t hugely affect the overall storyline. But it did lead to some clumsiness that again took away from the authenticity of the wartime atmosphere. Trying to avoid spoilers, the idea that Jericho could suddenly decide to drive hundreds of miles with no word of where he might have got strictly rationed petrol was nearly as ridiculous as the suggestion that the police could search a car and not notice a massive great machine hidden under the folded-down roof. I didn’t mind that they changed the way the story played out, but I was irritated by the fact that they didn’t make enough effort to keep it credible.

enigma 3

The abridgement of the story also led to an awful lot of plot explanation being done by the device of characters telling each other things they would already have known. At the beginning, Jericho kindly explains to the Americans how Enigma worked – considering they had been working on building their own code-breaking machines for months, this seemed a little unnecessary. And the code-breakers too kept explaining to each other how they went about their jobs. Again, possibly for time or budget constraints, some scenes that I felt would have worked brilliantly on screen simply didn’t appear and again were quickly glossed over with a line or two of dialogue – for example, the heroic retrieval from a sinking U-boat of the original codebooks that gave the codebreakers the information they needed to break the Enigma codes.


I know I’ve been highly critical of the film, but the criticisms are mainly in terms of comparison to the book. Without that comparison it’s an enjoyable movie, though it doesn’t have the same levels of atmosphere, depth and authenticity that made the book so exceptional and, where changes have been made, they’ve been made clumsily. One where I think the movie would actually have worked much better for me if I’d watched it before I’d read the book, and thus had lower expectations.

★ ★ ★ ★

So it will be no surprise to learn that…

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

enigma 2


* * * * *

gone fishing

Did you know?

…that the venue for the US Open at Flushing Meadows is built on the site that apparently inspired the Valley of Ashes in The Great Gatsby?


See you soon!

37 thoughts on “Film of the Book: Enigma

  1. Have a wonderful blog break, FictionFan! And thanks, as ever, for this thoughtful and candid review. So many times I think directors and producers change stories just for that ‘Hollywood’ effect, when in reality, it would’ve been so much better as is. Admittedly I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to that; I much prefer films that are really faithful to the atmosphere and authenticity of a book, as much as to the actual plot events. Even so, it’s a shame that they didn’t keep the focus where it was in the book, if I may put it that way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Margot! The Brits are doing splendidly for the first time in my life, so I’m on US time at the moment… 😉

      Yes, my view is that there are so many great books that would work well as films that I never understand why directors choose ones that they feel they have to change. But I know loads of people watch the movies without ever reading the books, so I suppose to them it doesn’t matter. Sometimes reading the book enhances the movie-watching, but I’m afraid not in this case. A pity!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. From your review, I’d have to agree the book would top the movie by a landslide. Now, I haven’t read the book or seen the film, but the differences you’ve pointed out would tip the scales toward the written word. Good call! Oh, yes, ’til U.S. Open time, so enjoy your break and let’s cheer on our favorites!


    • Yes, in this case the book is definitely far superior, though the movie’s quite enjoyable for what it is. There’s nearly always more room in books though to create a really authentic picture of life. Hurrah! The Brits are dojg great this year, which is a thing I’ve never had a chance to say in my life before! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Humm – now I got all excited when I saw the director was Michael Apted – but that’s because I saw, many years ago, The Triple Echo, which I thought was fantastic, and only quite recently (this year) read the book, as I have come very late to the wonderful H.E. Bates, But i think you have put me off this one, in sterling fashion (what a shame you don’t live in Stirling, so I could have written in sterling Stirling fashion – please MOVE, soon, so that I can) I am wanting to read the book though, as I do enjoy Harris very much, though his ‘factions’ a bit more than his ‘fictions’ It’s great to have an intelligent, educative page turner writer, both, to depend on.

    And what a lovely picture of the C’mon, Vamos boys. Though I can’t get tp see the US Open as I don’t think its viewable here without a subscription. I read the Guardian on line live account a bit. But not in the middle of the night, when Andy’s first round was happening


    • I used to work in Stirling if that helps! This movie is fine, but not a patch on the book. I’d say this book is so well-researched it almost counts as one fo his factual ones – the actual plot came secondary to me to the scene-setting and descriptions of how the code-breakers worked.

      Pity, because the Brits are doing brilliantly for once! Kyle Edmund has been promoted to my heroes list – Dan Evans nearly got on too, but he kinda blew it with a bit of a childish tantrum in the 5th set. It’s great to have more than just Andy to root for, for a change. Of course, I’m still hoping Rafa wins though…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I hope you are not in too much of a despondent state after Rafa’s vanishing due to a pesky young un from France. You’ll just have to put all your eggs in the Andy basket now…..I do hope that Dimitrov’s pulchritude doesn’t divide your loyalty. It won’t do, you know! Cats woke me repeatedly last night, as it was raining and they do like to dash in and out and then hurl their wet selves on my sleeping form… I stupidly turned on the tablet to see the state of reported play from Guardian online. Wish I could WATCH! Probably just as well I can’t, and therefore can sleep (cats permitting) at night. But poor Kyle (and poor Djok) starting play at 10.30 pm, their time. It’s not on!!


        • I must say the Rafa defeat was pretty hard – he was playing much better than he has recently, but just doesn’t have the consistency he used to have. And the other guy was playing a blinder. But the big hero of this year is Kyle – even though Novak demolished him, his attitude was great! He stayed calm and tried out new things, and actually performed considerably better than the scoreline suggested. Novak was at his brilliant best, and nobody could have stood against him. But you could see Kyle processing and learning from the experience even while it was happening. A future champion, for sure!

          Oddly, enough Dimitrov’s form of beauty doesn’t seem to work on me – in tennis terms, I’m definitely attracted to people who try their hardest on every point and it’s that that makes them gorgeous to me – Rafa, Novak and, in recent years, Andy. Dimitrov always seems kinda half-hearted to me. So I’m happily hoping that Andy will smash him…


          • Oh well, done. I’m reassured now. I always thought Andy tried his best, but has had a tendency who spend a lot of time wrestling with himself in the past. Surprised you didn’t mention Federer though…….

            I hope to be on the way to sleep well before Andy starts tonight. Constantly refreshing Guardian live, or even worse, struggling to get some sense of what is going on via Radio 5 Live is not so good.


            • Hmm… for his first couple of years, Andy was a bit of a whiny quitter – he’d get into a tantrum and then kind of give up and defeat himself through huffiness. But he got over it as he grew up. I’ve never really been a Federer fan – I admire his tennis, but don’t much like his personality. He seems very arrogant and conceited, which even the likes of Novak has managed to avoid becoming, and he’s always struck me as being a really bad loser. He never is able to just say some guy was better than him on the day – he always has to have an excuse…

              Did you know (this is my day for unsolicited advice) that for the princely sum of £6.99, you could subscribe to Eurosport for a month and see all the matches live on your computer? Or on your TV, even, if you can link your tablet to your TV…


            • I will think on that one come the Australian open. Wimbledon and the French, not to mention Queens can be seen here (I think you are the one who kindly pointed me to ITV4 for the French. I KNOW I don’t have time and shouldn’t make time to be watching overnight on this one, as I have a demanding week ahead. Of course, the equivalent of catch up would have been good……


            • I think they do have a catch-up service as part of the subscription. I get mine via my Virgin subscription, but I only get a limited version – two channels of the main coursts. But that works fine for me. I never really watch sport as catch-up – knowing the result spoils it for me, and I can’t resist looking at the results…

              Liked by 1 person

  4. I haven’t seen the film, and I don’t think I will now. I loved the book (as I do all Harris’s work) and I don’t want to spoil it. I must say, I’m really enjoying this “film of the book” thread.


    • Are you? I’m glad – ‘cos I have to admit, it’s my least popular “feature”! But I’m enjoying it too, so it will continue regardless… 😉

      The film is quite enjoyable, but not a patch on the book in this case.


  5. I saw the film ages ago & from what I remember I thought it was OKish, not terrible but not great – I don’t think I realised at the time there was a book too. The film wouldn’t have inspired me to seek out the book, but you have!


    • Yep, that was pretty much my feeling about the film – enjoyable but not fabulous. The book however IS fabulous, so I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. He’s rapidly becoming one of my favourite authors, though I’m late to the party with him.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I didn’t see the film, but wanted to. But I’ll probably hold off on watching the film until I’ve read the book. Your review had me chuckling. The use of glasses to make someone plain always causes me to roll my eyes. Sadly, I’ve seen the use of glasses is still being done in movies and TV even in 2016. 😦


    • I’d leave quite a long gap between reading the book and watching the film – definitely the film suffered for me because I watched it too soon and noticed all the differences. Haha! It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? Kate Winslett would still be beautiful even if they made her wear the cardboard 3D specs… 😉


  7. I really liked the book too, but I think I enjoyed the film more than you did – I thought there were some great scenes in it and some lovely cinematography. I think I quite liked the events happening in a more sunny atmosphere! And I thought the acting was very good. I wonder – I was an expat Brit living in the US when I first saw it, perhaps that inclined me to like such a very British film…


    • The film definitely suffered for me because I watched it almost immediately after finishing the book. I enjoy doing the comparisons, but it means I really spot differences, whereas if there had been a few months between reading and watching, I suspect I wouldn’t have noticed so much. But I did enjoy the film overall – I always love watching Winslett, and yes, the brightness of it looked good. I just didn’t think it was great as an adaptation, if that makes any sense. And, thinking of Margot’s post, I did find I had to suspend my disbelief a bit too much at some parts…


  8. I find it SO cool that you noticed video coloring! Such interesting things (and cheating things) can be done with coloring, I fear. What is a foodstuff? I didn’t know Winslet was one of your favs! I think she was in a movie I saw once…but it was an awful movie. It’s new, too, and you def shouldn’t watch it!

    *laughs* Says the lady that only likes hot tennis players!


    • You’re the only person who ever notices how cool I am – it’s extraordinary that everyone else fails to spot it! Clearly you’re remarkably perceptive… Haha! Well, I suppose it’s just another word for food really – but don’t you think it sounds better? More… sophisticated. Well, you need to tell me what movie it was or I could end up watching it by accident!!

      *laughs* But I’d still think Rafa was gorgeous even if he was wearing specs! After all, the Professor sometimes wear specs, and he’s still… *giggles*


      • Haha. That’s because you are, and the professor notices all. (Which sounds way creepier than it actually really is, let me assure you.) You know, I’ve NEVER heard of it before. Ever. It does sound rather neatio. Foodstuffs. I could get on its case. It was… *thinks for an age and a half* Divergent! And I’m serious: never watch it! And I’m not just saying that, of course.

        There’s nothing at all unattractive about specs. I think the reason she probably lost them is you can’t very will kiss with them on. Well, I guess you could. But it would be an interest.


        • *curtseys coolly* See, you should read more Dickens! It’s full of great words like foodstuffs (comestibles is a good one, too!) and even you would have to agree he’s not as dull as poor old Descartes! Kate Winslet was in Divergent?!?? Oh dear… you see, I’d never, ever have wanted to see Divergent, but now you’ve told me she’s in it, I really feel I must! What’s wrong with it?

          *laughs* Oh yes you can!! So long as you’re… flexible. Of course, it becomes trickier if the other person is wearing specs too – if you’re not careful, one of you could lose an ear… *shudders* That’d be a great way to get kissed, BTW – chat up some gorgeous girl with specs and work the conversation round to saying kissing is impossible with specs on… she’s bound to want to prove you wrong! Of course, if you pick the wrong girl she might hit you over the head with a beer glass instead – check that she doesn’t have tattoos on her biceps first…


          • What’s a comestible? Sounds nasty. Is it food? So, it turns out Plato is better than Descartes. Imagine that. Plato! What dadblamery. Well, it’s got awful acting (including her!) awful scripting and an awful plot, inherited directly from the book. It will cause you much revulsion! Yucketh. Galore.

            An ear?! I always knew kissing was dangerous. We should outlaw it. Since I’m sure kissing has led to death in the past. *nods* *laughs* But nobody wants to kiss anyways!


            • Food, again! See, you should do a degree in obscure old-fashioned words and I’d be able to help you! Plato – he was the man in the cave, wasn’t he? Or am I thinking of Pluto? *laughs* Poor Descartes – I guess you won’t be friending him on Facebook, eh? Haha! But pretty good apart from all that, eh? Perhaps I shall follow your advice and give it a miss…

              But what a way to go! Much better than being run down by a bus, for instance…


            • Plato was in a cave? That’s sorta cool. I just read his Apology (when he was sentenced to death–yes!) and the Meno. Or just Meno. It’s not bad. And the professor is great. For some reason, I think BUS is a philosopher, the sudden. Hahahaha. Yeah, instead, watch Captain America Civil War! Like now!

              No, it isn’t! One is gross and the other is…well, a bit more hurtful.


            • I think it was a metaphorical cave *nods and tries to look wise* Ooh, you’re becoming soooo educated! I haven’t read anything he wrote – nor indeed, anything any philosopher wrote! You’ll just have to summarise them all for me as you go. BUS, in fact, studied Moral Philosophy at Uni – what you would call minored in it, I think. *laughs* Yessir! Soon…


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