Enigma (2001)




Director:     Michael Apted. 

Starring:     Dougray Scott (Thomas Jericho),  Kate Winslet (Hester Wallace),  Saffron Burrows (Claire),  Jeremy Northam (Wigram),  Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Puck),  Tom Hollander (Logie),  Donald Sumpter (Leveret),  Matthew Macfadyen (Cave),  Richard Leaf (Baxter),  Ian Felce (Proudfoot),  Bohdan Poraj (Pinker),  Paul Rattray (Kingcome),  Richard Katz (De Brooke),  Tom Fisher (Upjohn),  Robert Pugh (Skynner). 

the British Bletchley Park and code-breaking




Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

World War II.  A message is sent to German U-boats consisting of one word:  "Akelai."

In Poland a boy's dog uncovers a buried human hand connected to a human. 

On a train a pretty blonde named Claire Romilly sits down by a British code breaker named Thomas Jericho. 

Thomas is escorted forcefully to Bletchley Park, 60 miles north of London and center of British code breaking operations against Nazi Germany.  The escort knocks on a closed door asking for Mr. Skynner, head of code breaking operations.  Skynner talks with Tom saying:  "I never wanted you back.  Logie says he needs you. . . . Conference in half an hour and keep your mouth shut.  You're only there for the show."  Tom keeps thinking wistfully about Claire.  A code breaker named Guy tells him the Nazis keep broadcasting just one word:  "Akelai".   Tom knows what it means.  It is the genus Aquilegia for the flower columbine.  But it's real meaning is "Change the weather code."  And that in turn means change the codes for the German Enigma machine.  The bad news is that recently the Germans switched their U-boats to a new code book and the British code breakers are blocked out once again. 

And now the Yanks have arrived to demand the code be broken in order to protect three American convoys.  Skynner is afraid they want to take his empire away.  Three convoys have left from the USA.  In all 141 merchant ships are involved with a gross tonnage just under a million tons.  The British don't know where the German U-boats are.  The Americans and the British both want to know from the code breakers if the German code can be broken.  Skynner has to answer for this.  He asks his code breakers if they can do the job in four days.  Tom is given the job of explaining the problem to the American.  He tells the American that the German Enigma machine weighs 26 pounds and the Germans have thousands of these machines.  The Brits have one Enigma machine of their own, courtesy of the Polish Cipher Bureau.  A fourth rotor had been added for the Enigma machines for the U-boats.  Guy says that the message cannot be decoded in four days.  It took ten months for the first decoding.  (Tom was the one who broke the code.)  Skynner tells Guy to send Tom packing, because he feels that Tom deliberately embarrassed him. 

A fellow named Wigram is looking for a suspected spy in Bletchley Park. 

The decoders used a captured copy of the German Navy's weather code book.  Two men, named Fasson and Grazier, died in a sinking sub in the Eastern Mediterranean in order to get the book in May of 1942. 

Tom sees Hester Wallace, a roommate and friend of Claire's.  He asks her how is Claire.  Hester is not very cooperative. 

A Polish code breaker named Puck meets Tom for the second time.  He hopes that Tom is not crazy anymore. 

Tom sneaks into Claire's room.  He has a flashback about Claire.  She is the one who asked him out in order to get him started.  He explains to Claire that he is a mathematician.  Tom is looking for something in Claire's room.  He remembers how a floor board would always creak when she walked on it.  He pries the floor board up and finds four pages of top-secret German codes.  He wonders about Claire:  "My God, what have you done?"  Hester appears holding an iron poker.  She threatens to call the police on Tom.  Tom tells her that Claire would be the first to be arrested.  Claire has intercepts of German signals from April 17, nine days ago.  Hester tells Tom that Claire has gone missing.  Tom is surprised.  He asks Hester about the meaning of ADU found on the intercepts.  It means "angels dance upward".  

Tom returns to his apartment room to find Mr. Wigram waiting for him.  He asks Tom why he broke down.  He wants to know if it was over Claire Romilly.  Tom has just returned after a month's absence.  Claire has been missing for 48 hours.  Wigram then searches Tom for anything  incriminating.  He finds nothing. Tom says the month that he knew Claire was the happiest of his life.  Claire and he went dancing and afterwards Tom told her that he loved her.  They hadsex in his room.  Wigram saks if they quarreled.  The answer is no.  Tom has a flashback about Claire.  After having sex with him he finds her looking through his things in the morning.  She calmly tells him exactly what she is doing, but not why.  When he takes his documents back from her, she cries and then leaves.  "She moved on."  Wigram leaves.  Tom burns the codes that Claire stole from the files.  He has another flashback   This one is about his begging her to stay and telling her that he will tell her anything she wants to know about himself and his work.  She says:  "Poor you.  I really got under your skin, didn't I?" 

Tom gets Hester to agree to meet with him.  They both want to know why Claire would steal four messages that she could not decode.  Hester asks Tom what Claire would have needed in order to decode the messages.  She would need a Typex machine and a crib.  A crib is a previously known answer to a coded message that cannot be decoded without the answer.  With the answer, the decoders can work backwards to figure out the codes.  They test their progress by finding out if their decoding method provides the already known answer.  Tom gets Hester to get some critical information from the registry at great risk to herself.  At first she says no, but then does get the information.  She then goes to get information about Hut 6 and Control.  She wants to take the Kestrel Intercepts for March and April.  But when she finds the files, she discovers that they are empty.  Claire never filed the intercepts.  She took them home with her instead. 

Claire gets caught by supervisor Mr. Mermagen, but he is willing to overlook it for a little sex.  She is able to worm her way out of the difficult situation by threatening to tell his wife  Later Hester tells Tom what happened.  She is shocked when she learns that Tom burned the stolen intercepts.  Tom tells Hester that he thinks she is simply wonderful.  She smiles and leaves. 

Guy tells Tom that Skynner wants him out.  Tom asks him to get a couple more days at least for him. 

The U-boats are observing absolute radio silence.  This is discouraging, but Tom discovers a way out.  Guy jumps on the answer confirming that the Germans did not change the short signal code book.  It's their way back in.  It's the crib they have been looking for.  Tom goes to the museum to retrieve the German short signal code book.  Hester and Tom realize that they need the Enigma machine to translate the intercepts stolen by Claire.  And they find out that they can get a copy of the original intercepts in the files of the intercept office where Claire worked.  While touring the intercept offices Tom snoops around and grabs the copies of the four stolen intercepts.  They are filed under ADU.  Tom tells Hester that he has eleven ADU signals and launchings.  As they drive away from the intercept office, they realize that they are being followed by the police.  Tom is able to get away from the police by just barely streaking in front of a giant tanker truck.  The police crash into a fence trying to avoid the tanker.  Hester has him drive to an isolated barn where they start to use the Enigma machine to translate the stolen intercepts.  They start making progress but they can't understand the results.  And the police now find the barn.  Wigram is with the police.  They search the couple, their car and the barn but again find nothing. 

Wigram takes Tom and Hester to an isolated area by a lake.  There he shows Hester a number of pieces of clothing that Hester unhappily recognizes as belonging to Claire.  The police start to drag the lake for her body. 

Two of the American convoys are entering the area of operation of the German U-boats.   The pressure is now really on the decoders. 

Hester goes home and uses the Enigma machine to work on deciphering the intercepts. 

A German U-boat spots one of the American convoys.   Now comes the quick exchange of messages between U-boat commanders as the wolf pack is called in on the convoy.  The British code breaks frantically work on each of the messages intercepted from the German U-boats.  They quickly learn the position of the American convoy.  Tom tells the supervisor that he needs one more link. 

Hester makes some real progress.  She discovers that the codes are the names of Polish men. 

News arrives that the first convoy ship has been torpedoed.  The supervisor says:  "It's started.  Bastards."  The toll rises to four ships hit with the loss of around 300 men.  But Tom comes through with the decoding.  Tom returns to his apartment room.  Claire is sleeping on his bed.  She tells Tom that the Germans found 4,000 corpses of Polish military officers killed at Katyn in 1940 by Soviet military forces.  They then figure out that Claire discovered the decoded message, but the secret message proved to be too big for her own safety.  They discover that Puck (Adam Pukowski) is the kid brother of Jozef Pukowski, one of the men massacred by the Soviets.  Claire stole the intercepts for Puck who was looking for his brother's name among those massacred.  Tom concludes that Puck killed Claire because she knew too much about his plans.  At any time she could have given him away. 

Tom goes back to his work only to be confronted by a nasty Mr. Skynner.  When Skynner goes too far and criticizes Claire, Tom hits him and knocks him down.  Tom now wants to find Puck.  He finds Puck getting on a train.  Tom runs and jumps on the train.  He finds that Wigram is already on the train.  Wigram knows about Puck and is after him too.  The intelligence officer explains that the Katyn massacre would be a great political coup for Hitler against Stalin and the massacre must be kept secret.  Puck has decided to work with the Nazis in order to get back at the Soviets for killing his brother.  Wigram wants to follow Puck to see who Puck will lead him to.  But Tom wants to know why Wigram is so concerned about Claire and her death.  He tells Wigram that he (Tom) frightens the intelligence officer and he wants to know why.  He concludes that it is because of his connection with Claire.  Claire was an agent working for Wigram.  She told Wigram everything.  He adds:  "You had her fucking for England."  He says that Wigram made a terrible mistake and Claire paid for it with her life.  The two men start fighting, but are interrupted by the news that Puck has jumped off the train.  He's gone.  The train is stopped and the police start looking for Puck without success. 

Tom remembers a place known to Claire where Puck might be.  He goes to the hotel room, gets the key and opens the door.  The bed has been slept in recently, but no one is there.  Tom returns to work.  Guy tells him that he broke Skynner's cheekbone.  Tom seems unconcerned.   He only wants to find Puck.  Tom learns that a German U-boat is headed to a certain area in Scotland.  This causes Tom to remember a postcard of a cabin in Scotland in which Claire once told him she would like to live.  He kisses Hester good-bye and drives to Scotland.  He finds the cabin at Loch Feochan.  He sees Puck getting on to a boat.  Wigram is already at the cabin watching Puck from a distance.  When he sees Tom running to the boat he thinks that Tom is going to ruin everything.  Tom jumps onto the boat.  Puck tells him almost immediately that he did not kill Claire.  Tom says:  "I know."  A German U-boat emerges from beneath the water to the surface.  Puck knocks Tom overboard.  He then proceeds to jump onto the submarine.  At this time a British aircraft drops a bomb on the U-boat right where Puck was hanging onto the sub.  A big explosion occurs engulfing the sub in flames.  A second British plane drops a bomb on the sub. 

Tom shows up at the lake dragging.  He tells Wigram:  "You're looking in the wrong place. . . . She's moved on."  He says that Claire's clothes were meant to be found.  Claire is still alive.  She loved Puck and wanted to live in Scotland with him until the end of  the war.  Eventually Puck told her his plans and informed her that they will both go to Germany for their safety.  But Claire was no traitor, says Tom.  "She fooled us all."  He adds:  "Keep looking."  Wigram replies:  "Oh, I will.  I will." 

Spring 1946, London after the war.  A pregnant Hester comes to meet Tom who is waiting for her.  While waiting, he sees Claire walking amidst a crowd of people.  But he just lets her pass on by.  He greets Hester with a kiss and they go inside a building. 


The "greatest convoy battle of all time" was the turning point of the war in the North Atlantic.  The code breakers continued to read the Shark Enigma until the German surrender in 1945. 

The Soviet Union denied responsibility for the Katyn Massacre until 1990 when Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev authorized a statement expressing his country's "profound regret" for the crime. 

The code breakers of Bletchley Park never received official recognition.  Their work, which saved millions of lives, was kept secret for thirty-six years. 


Good movie.  It's informative but is also a love story and a mystery.  The mystery is about what happened to Tom's beloved Claire.  The love story is between Tom and Claire and Tom and Hester.  They do a pretty good job of explaining the general technique of decoding used by the British code breakers and the importance of breaking the German Enigma coding system.   Both my wife and I liked the movie.  It kept our interest throughout the progress of the film. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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