Bletchley Park is an unlovely name for an unlovely country house. In World War II it was home to a collection of English crossword-puzzle addicts, math geeks, even the odd minor poet or two, whose supersecret work on German codes probably shortened the war by months if not years. Their greatest success was in cracking Enigma, the machine-generated numerical language by which the Germans communicated with the submarine wolf packs that preyed on the Atlantic shipping routes vital to Britain's survival.
In what was surely the best espionage novel of the '90s, Robert Harris imagined a brilliant mathematician, Tom Jericho (played in the movie adaptation by Dougray Scott), who is driven to a nervous breakdown by a failed love affair with the beauteous Claire (Saffron Burrows). Nevertheless, a shaky Tom must return to work against an urgent deadline: if the Bletchley crowd can't crack the code within a few days, a huge convoy will be wiped out.
But there is a mole at Bletchley--and Claire may well be it. If she (or someone else) gets word to the enemy that the code has been cracked, the Germans will simply change it, and disaster will ensue. Tom has to lead the code breakers and simultaneously find the spy. In this he is aided by Hester, Claire's plain roommate (an excellent Kate Winslet).
Directed by Michael Apted and written by Tom Stoppard, the film is faithful (almost to a fault) to Harris' novel. It is particularly true to the grimness and grottiness of life at Bletchley. Enigma plumbs a drama that takes place largely between the ears of the code breakers, a story ideally realized on the printed page, less so on the screen.
But there is something admirable in Enigma's Sherlock Holmesian insistence that ratiocination can be suspenseful, that the discovery of clues, both true and false, can have dramatic impact. Enigma is not for everyone, but the thoughtful (and the historically minded) will find it an absorbing and extremely well-textured experience. --By Richard Schickel