I am a sucker for stories set in the World Wars, and there is something alluring about time travel shows or films that visit this period. Should something be changed? Would that alter the course of events? Should we kill Hitler?
The story we are offered in ‘Time of Spies’, by the way, is the plot of a novel that was published last year, called El Tiempo Es El Que Es. If you can more or less read Spanish, I suggest you buy this book, because it is entertaining, educative and thrilling.
The plot revolves around Lola Mendieta, albeit a 23-year-old Lola, ten years before Salvador recruited her. It is 1943, and she is in Luchon, France, to meet English-with-a-heavy-Andalusian-accent spy William Martin, to whom she gives the documents about Operation Mincemeat. But there is an incident, and while William gets out in time, Lola is arrested by the Nazis.
In 2017, Lola is dying of cancer (thanks to Darrow) and, with her next-to-last breath, she begs Salvador to go back in time and stop Darrow from ever being created, so she doesn’t die. Problem is, Salvador is now busy trying to save Young Lola, to which end he sends to 1943 the team and Ernesto, who is fluent in German. They need to save Young Lola so that she doesn’t share the details of Mincemeat with the Nazis -Salvador is already worried, because she was never meant to take part in that operation in the first place.
But of course, things go wrong from the start. As Ernesto impersonates a German officer to take over the car transporting Young Lola, a gunfight ensues, and while he is shot in the leg, the girl refuses to let her saviour behind, and they are both taken to Camp de Gurs.
What does the team do? They are told to forget about Ernesto and Lola, and travel to Punta Umbría, where William is, so that they can help him with Operation Mincemeat. And they find the guy pretty quickly, singing in a bar.
Unfortunately, the Brits have aborted the operation, but William and his English-Andalusian friends don’t give up, so they and the team decide to continue with their own operation, Operación Albondiguilla (Operation Little Meatball). They will create all the fake documents, take a photo of Amelia to pass as the soldier’s girlfriend, and will even write love letters.
In the meantime, Irene informs Salvador that Walkman Guy from last week is actually an operative from 1958 that was believed to have died during a mission, so who knows how many other agents are actually moles now.
In Gurs, Ernesto receives the visit from a priest (sent by Salvador) that informs him about the team, and gives him a blade to kill Young Lola if he thinks she is going to give in and spill all the secrets. But in the end, Ernesto can’t kill the girl who just stood by him.
Our friends in Punta Umbría have more problems, though, because while the Brits send a code to let them know Mincemeat is still happening, the receiver has a broken cord and the message doesn’t get to them.
So while Albondiguilla is still on, the team visits (sneaks into) a morgue to find a body to disguise as the soldier, but none of the corpses they find fits. That is when William has an epiphany: it has to be him, he must sacrifice himself. He sneaks out in the middle of the night, but Alonso wakes up and follows him, a scene that ends with an emotional conversation between the two soldiers, and Alonso acknowledging how brave William is, and respecting him like the soldier in the middle of a war that he is.
Alonso’s feelings quickly turn to anger when he returns to the house and learns that the Brits are still sending a corpse of their own, which would mean William died in vain. “Luckily,” the submarine transporting it is intercepted, so they can still make sure William becomes the unknown soldier. All they need to do is make sure his face is unrecognisable and put back around his neck the medallion he’d given to Alonso before he went into the sea, because that way he can be buried straightaway, alluding to the fervent Catholicism of everyone in the town. Hitler buys it, William is buried, and Pacino asks Isabel, the little girl whose parents were friends with William, to make sure there are always fresh flowers on his tomb.
74 years later, an aged Isabel is seen in the cemetery weeping, while her granddaughter puts flowers on William’s grave, as she had promise Pacino she’d do.
And on the same year, Salvador arrives to the hospital to find out that Lola has passed away, and has left him a note with a poem by Miguel Hernández written on it. Will Salvador try to meddle with time to save her?
Operación Albondiguilla – the secret files
-I almost forgot! Young Lola and Ernesto are about to be executed by a firing squad, but Salvador appears with the cavalry and saves them.
–(Pacino tastes an awful coffee) “I know we can’t change history, but damn it, the coffee…”
-You could say Pacino was clearly enjoying being the one who got to explain the story. Lucky him that he’d read The Man Who Never Was and watched the movie.
-When they are about to enter door 222, Pacino sings “the biscuit you order by its number,” which was the jingle of these biscuits in Spain in the 20th century.
–(after Ernesto gives animal names as code names) “A rabbit, a lion… Now we only need an eagle, our friend the crocodile and we are in El Hombre y la Tierra, eh?” “What?” “Felix Rodríguez de la Fuente? Okay, bye! (My God…)”
-“I should have stayed with Ernesto.” “Sure, because you look so German,”
–(about the Nazis) “They’re the Inquisition.” (Ernesto, whose son was Torquemada): “I know a lot about it…I’ve studied it in school.”
-“He was a writer, his name was Ian Fleming. He worked for the Secret Service and then became a novelist. He created James Bond.” “Who’s that?” “You don’t know 007? Get Smart? Then I’m not even gonna mention Anacleto.”
-“The wingbeat of a butterfly can change the world. F**ing butterfly.”
-“Where should we start looking for him?” “We are Spanish. We start at the bar.”
-“For an English guy, he curses in Spanish perfectly.”
–(to the Nazi officer) “We are done here, son of a bitch.” (to Ernesto) “What a relief that these morons can’t understand Spanish.”
-“I’ll never understand how a soldier can kill civilians.” “True soldiers don’t do that, fanatics do.”
-Alonso’s face in the first photo they take of him is priceless.
-How can you explain to a 16th century man what the contraceptive pill is so that he can understand?
-“Your wife and children will be so happy to see you again.”
-“I can’t stop thinking about Ernesto, William, and young Mendieta… But you know how I cheer myself up? Reminding myself that we have spun Hitler a yarn.”