‘Ungentlemanly Warfare’ Is A Fun Film, Loosely Based On Fact


Guy Ritchie’s new movie The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare was a fun romp. Based on at least a bit of historical fact, the director has created a sort of “Dirty Half-Dozen.” The names of the characters are the same as from real life, but based on some real photos at the end of the film, they were not nearly as attractive.

The movie begins early during World War II. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Rory Kinnear) is facing a crisis. German submarine activity is choking Britain, and his top military leaders want him to surrender. Instead, he has Brigadier Gubbins (Cary Elwes) — known as “M” — set up a small-scale mission to destroy the air filters the subs need that are being supplied at an African base. Adding to the fun, he is assisted by Ian Fleming (Freddie Fox), who was the creator of James Bond.

A tough guy, Gus March-Phillipps (Henry Cavill) is released from prison to lead the mission. He demands his own people. They include Anders Lassen (Alan Ritchson), a one man wrecking crew. He also chooses Irish sailor Henry Hayes (Hero Fiennes Tiffen) and underwater demolition specialist Freddy Alvarez (Henry Golding). Along the way, they will have to rescue expert planner Geoffrey Appleyard (Alex Pettyfer), which is done so easily it seems like a superhero movie. Also part of the group, although set up inside the town, are gambling den owner Richard Heron (Babs Olusanmokun) and actress-singer-deadly sharpshooter agent Marjorie Stewart (Eiza Gonzalez). All have very good reasons for hating the Nazis.

The group somehow has the magical ability to kill enormous numbers of Nazis without being killed or even badly hurt. We see the group first dealing with a particularly nasty Nazi officer on a patrol boat, who decides it would be fun to set their boat on fire and see if they want to swim dozens of miles or burn up. Somehow, three of our heroes kill more than a dozen of the Germans, adding a particularly grisly end of the nasty Nazi, while a fourth puts a bomb against the patrol boat.

The scenes on the island of Fernando Po are wonderfully styled. There are a couple of references to the movie Casablanca, a really nasty German officer, Commandant Heinrich Luhr (Til Schweiger) to be seduced, and friends to be won over. Our heroes are occasionally caught but manage to casually kill any bad guys in the way. In the middle of all of this, top British leaders are doing all they can to stop the mission, one needed for Britain’s survival.

As expected, plans are made and then messed up. The target ship is due to leave early. The target ship has had its armor replenished, and it can’t be sunk. Luhr discovers that Stewart is Jewish and plans to torture her. But then things begin to go as expected: explosives go off, bad guys get slaughtered, Lassen manages to kill dozens with a knife until he picks up an ax, and you can figure out the rest. Luhr captures Stewart and has a charming moment telling her about how much punishment she will receive before… well, you’ll have to see the movie.

The cast is fine. Most of the parts are not that complex. Golding, who has been playing overly refined people since his breakout in Crazy Rich Asians is properly lower-class scruffy. Ritchson, who is Reacher on the Amazon Prime series, is huge and dominates the screen in the fight scenes. Cavill does a fine job. I particularly liked Olusanmokun, who seemed simply a wingman for Stewart, working to get along with everyone, turn into a tough killer. But Gonzalez steals much of the film. It is clear she is in the middle of things right from the beginning and manages to brilliantly portray a very smart, tough woman at a time women were not supposed to have those qualities. Add to that, her stunning beauty and a real talent for singing, we could see her again soon.

The plotting is a bit sloppy, but director Ritchie knows the important element is to have fun. And the cast seems to have a ball wiping the floor with the enemy and throwing around wisecracks. Ritchie is about style, and this film has plenty of that.

How truthful was it? Well, the people were there, including Ian Fleming, who is said to have modeled James Bond on March-Phillipps, who in real life married Stewart. But little of that matters. This is a fun movie.