Operation Mincemeat (M18)
128 minutes, opens on May 19, 4 stars
The story: The year is 1943. The challenge at hand: breaking the Nazi's grip on occupied Europe. In a brazen feat of military deception, one that helped change the course of World War II, British intelligence hatched a plan to enlist a Royal Marine who was, well, a corpse.
1. Way stranger than fiction
The mission codenamed Operation Mincemeat is also the title of director John Madden's (Shakespeare In Love, 1998) sturdy old-school espionage adventure based on a 2010 bestseller.
Minimal film-making flair is required when a non-fiction story is this intriguing, with ingenious details.
It is a quality ensemble. Actors Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen are the operatives orchestrating the mad scheme. Penelope Wilton is their secretary. Kelly Macdonald's MI5 clerk injects office romance, adding the tension of mutual mistrust in this tale of tricky high-stakes spycraft.
Each character, touchingly, bears personal wartime losses.
2. Unsung heroes get their due
Too often, history forgets that battles are won, not only by front-line action, but thanks to cool heads plotting impossible stratagems in basement headquarters. This is a rousing tribute to all such patriots.
3. A witty footnote
The dramatic narrator is revealed to be someone of note, before he became famous.
Gangubai Kathiawadi (PG13)
152 minutes, Netflix, 3 stars
The story: This is adapted from a chapter in Hussein Zaidi's reportage anthology, Mafia Queens Of Mumbai.
The naive teen daughter of a barrister in 1950s Gujarat, India, is tricked and sold into prostitution in Mumbai. She rises to become a powerful underworld madam and celebrated activist who tirelessly campaigns for sex workers.
1. Hail the (mafia) queen
Anglo-Indian actress Alia Bhatt, dark, appraising eyes gleaming like a viper, is sensational in the lead role. Her Gangubai is proud, cunning, joyful, defiant against injustices and contemptuous of enemies, whether corrupt cops or rival politicians.
2. Bollywood titan Sanjay Leela Bhansali is producer-director
Gangubai Kathiawadi, which premiered at the 2022 Berlin International Film Festival, is the film-maker's 10th feature in a lauded career that spans Devdas (2002) and Padmaavat (2018).
3. Sisters unite
The late Ganga Harjivandas would have been chuffed at how this fictionalised biopic of her life brushes out her less savoury criminal activities. But that is because Bhansali's movie is all about female empowerment.
And the social issues drama, however serious the message, is still Bhansali mass entertainment, a resplendently designed melodrama extravaganza.
Between ever grander advocacy speeches, the heroine and her brothel sorority swirl and shake in zesty musical set pieces, the songs composed by Bhansali himself.