Some viewers will tune into Operation Mincemeat, the World War II–set film now streaming on Netflix, for its historical spy-caper components. The movie—named for the British deception operation it depicts—features Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen as the real-life men who pulled off a preposterous-sounding ruse. Hatched by British intelligence officer (and future James Bond creator) Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn), the operation to deceive Hitler involved planting forged documents on a corpse in Allies uniform.
There are others, however, who might tune into the historical drama for another reason entirely: It features two dashing English actors beloved for portraying Jane Austen’s everlasting romantic hero Mr. Darcy. Firth, of course, assumed the honors in 1995’s six-part BBC classic Pride and Prejudice. (He also played a modernized version of Darcy in the Bridget Jones’s Diary films.) Macfadyen, meanwhile, assumed the role in 2005’s Joe Wright–directed adaptation opposite Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Bennett.
The Darcys unite in Operation Mincemeat, directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and based on Ben Macintyre’s eponymous book. They also play two points of a love triangle that also involves a typist played by Kelly Macdonald. During press rounds, however, Macdonald pointed out that the “the real romance” of the production was happening platonically offscreen between her male costars. Firth himself confirmed that at the London premiere, when he dryly told a reporter, “Yes, we did sort of fall in love, bromantically.”
So what was it that kindled the fire of their friendship?
“Shallow chitchat, really,” Firth tells Vanity Fair in a Zoom reuniting him, in Los Angeles, with Macfadyen in London. “Wasn’t it, mostly? A tendency to wear the same clothes.”
“Yeah, turning up in the same clothes,” agrees Macfadyen, deadpanning. “I would come dressed as Colin, and vice versa.”
Firth laughs at the image.
“And inevitably,” Macfadyen continues, “if you spend years and years in the business, you accumulate lots of shared acquaintances and colleagues, and therefore that leads to an awful lot of gossip.”
“Well, we made each other laugh, I think,” offers Firth.
“That’s true,” confirms Macfadyen.
“It’s quite thrilling when you find yourself giggling, and you can make a joke, which isn’t a very good one, and you’re getting [a good response],” says Firth. “Matthew’s quite an easy crowd.”
“Maybe your jokes are better,” admits Macfadyen.
“Also, we look back on the movie in a slightly misty-eyed nostalgia, because there was no COVID yet,” says Firth, explaining that the Darcys formed a happy, mask-less gang with Macdonald, Flynn, and costar Penelope Wilton while filming. “This was the last thing we did before all that kicked off.”
Getting back to the subject at hand, he says, “Sometimes it’s just an instinctive ease. This wasn’t a blind date. We had a project to do. So I think a lot can spin off from just having this common endeavor.”
Did they compare notes on playing Darcy, though?