Annabel Capper in “Operation Mincemeat”

[I’ve spent most of my Armitage-available time the last two days starting to make a Richard Armitage fan video! Wow, does it require concentration. Seriously. Six hours of work for three minutes of video? And I don’t even have to film the clips I’m using, just find them. It’s fun. However: My admiration for the doyennes of Armitage fan video, always high, is now climbing minute by minute. This is hard work. Anyway, in consequence of that this is going to be another Armitage-poor post. I promise to turn back to our handsome hero shortly. And this is really the last of the Capper materials I have in hand at the moment, anyway. So if you’re tired of reading about Ms. Capper, this will be the last post for the foreseeable future. It’s hard to obtain more detailed material on the career of someone who mostly appears in stage productions or things not purchasable or stealable via the Internet. I promise to stay on the job.]

Annabel Capper as Hester Leggett in Operation Mincemeat (2010). My cap.

Just a few weeks ago, Ms. Capper appeared in the role of Hester Leggett in the documentary, Operation Mincemeat, shown on BBC 2. If you’re in the UK you can still watch it on the BBC iPlayer. The documentary took its material from a celebrated book of the same name by Ben Macintyre (who also narrates this program) concerning a WWII-era British intelligence project that sought to put false intel in the hands of the Germans by attaching it to a dead body that would be left in a place where the Germans were likely to discover it. As part of this project, a number of fake documents were deposited with the body in order to increase the believability of the ruse, including a picture of a fiancée (“Pam”) and two love letters from her. Leggett is one of the women to whom these letters were attributed by posterity.

Quoting from Macintyre’s book (pp. 78-80): “The job of drafting [the love letters] fell to Hester Leggett, ‘The Spin,’ the most senior woman in the department. Jean [Leslie — also interviewed in the documentary — whose picture was used as that of Pam] remembered her as ‘skinny and embittered.’ Hester Leggett was certainly fierce and demanding. She never married, and she devoted herself utterly to the job of marshaling a huge quantity of secret paperwork. But into Pam’s letters she poured every ounce of pathos and emotion she could muster. These letters may have been the closest Hester Leggett came to romance: the chattering pastiches of a young woman madly in love, and with little time for grammar. … As the official report on Operation Mincemeat acknowledged, Hester Leggett’s effort ‘achieved the thrill and pathos of a war engagement with great success.'” [Book available partially on Google Books; search “Hester Leggett” to see the texts of the letters, which really are works of art.]

The clip opens with Patricia Trehearne, Section Assistant 17M, 1941-1945, describing a feigned jealousy over who would get to write these letters; then it moves to the fake “Pam” (Lyndal Marwick) reading the fake letter, and then Ms. Capper enters as Hester Leggett, about halfway through the clip.

Another too-short performance, but we see another side of Capper’s acting range, as she channels a sort of effusive, would-be Hepburnesque, war-era spinster. She hits it really well, I think. The wretched hairdo and the awkward lighting of her prominent jaw make her look like the popular image of a spinster, and she seems like the individual described in Macintyre’s book.

So in addition to her work here as woman on the job with hidden depths of passion, we’ve seen her as composer’s muse and grieving sister in non-speaking roles, and as Shakespearean siren, and as whatever you want to call her role in Sensitive Skin (I’ve only seen clips, so I’m going to save the adjectives for that until my DVD arrives and I can see where she fits into the story).

What can’t this woman play?

~ by Servetus on December 22, 2010.

22 Responses to “Annabel Capper in “Operation Mincemeat””

  1. @servetus

    This line: “…chattering pastiches of a young woman madly in love, and with little time for grammar” is great, I think I like the little time for grammar part the best. In fact, I may adopt it as my mantra.

    Another interesting post and only one more day until Christmas break! wa-hoo!

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  2. Amazing that there’s even an MI-5 connection 🙂 It’s been interesting to learn a bit about Ms. Capper as a person and artist and not only a photo.

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  3. I meant to comment on this yesterday. This is fascinating. I would love to see this. Maybe someone in the UK will take pity and record it. In the meantime, I think I’ll read the book.

    And I look forward to your take on ‘Sensitive Skin.’

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    • I even thought it was interesting, and I have very little interest in WWII (I always tell my students they know more about it than I do and I talk about something else they know less about on that day of western civ…)

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  4. I love your posts about Ms. Capper! This one is particularly interesting to me because not long ago I saw the movie “The Man Who Never Was” (1956) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0049471/
    Although the movie was not one of the best I’ve seen, it was fascinating as a true war espionage story.
    I would very much like to see the rest of this documentary. Thanks for the clip!
    Oh, and good on you for the video. Can’t wait to see it!

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    • I saw that movie as a kid and thought it was fiction. How much better that it’s true! I’ve got to read the book Servetus referenced.

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      • The wikipedia article is interesting — because apparently Ian Fleming was also tangentially involved in this story as well.

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        • I was able to see the documentary since I can receive the beeb. I liked it a lot, since Inever heard of the story before and it was hugely intersting. In it it was mentioned that Ian Fleming actually had come up with the original idea. Apparently he was involved with MI5 (I did not look into that further, but that is the idea I got from the documentary). At the time I was watching I remembers thinking: this is the ”real” miss Monypenny.

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  5. Very interesting story and Ms. Capper in the clip actually looks like my imagination of spinster at the time 🙂 I can see how very expressive and is a credible actress I’d like to see her on stage

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    • Me too. She’s had a couple of leads where a review of the production has made the papers — but they’ve been in fairly experimental or political things, not classics, and so the reviews have tended to focus on the script or the directing as opposed to her performances.

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  6. I saw it and intended to watch it, even before knowing AC would be appearing in it. The docu was very interesting indeed.

    She really did manage to give it a heartfelt rendition of the letter, more so than ‘Pam.’

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    • Do you think their point was that “Pam” was a fiction, whereas Hester was pouring her whole soul into the letters?

      I really felt that by the end of her text she was sounding a lot like a 1940s b/w movie 🙂

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  7. Can I just say that I hope they are in fact a couple. In my imaginary world, they make a stunning couple.

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    • I hope so, too, or rather, whatever their relationship is, I hope they are both happy in it. They do look great together. 🙂

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  8. Think I taped the Operation Mincemeat documentary for my father, who’s really into WW2 things. Have to check the DVR and watch it if I did! Thanks for posting! 🙂

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  9. […] spy. Fleming, who stood on the line between spy and novelist, and was said to have been involved in Operation Mincemeat, created a thirst in the reading public for all kinds of spy stories with the success of the James […]

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  10. Annabel is a truly talented actress.

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