The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare movie poster

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

In theaters April 19, 2024

Rated

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122 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: , , , , , , , , ,

It’s hard to be tired of a Guy Ritchie film, even one based on the exploits of an unsanctioned black ops group created by Winston Churchill himself. I do mean that. I’m not taking a backhanded swipe at The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare (2024), based upon recently declassified files of the British War Department of the first-ever special-forces organization. It’s just too much fun.

UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Rory Kinnear) is afraid the Germans are marching towards the West with lethal weapons the English cannot fight. The Americans have not yet entered WWII and may not if an English defeat is a foregone conclusion. Churchill has information that, if used by the right men, could turn the tide of the war, but no British soldier would want to get their hands dirty on such a mission that could result in war crimes. Under codename Operation Postmaster, he enlists the help of Major Gus March-Phillipps (Henry Cavill), sprung from military prison to lead Anders Lassen, aka “The Danish Hammer” (Alan Ritchson), Richard Heron (Babs Olusanmokun) the man on the ground with papers, people, and influence, pyrotechnic professional and convicted arsonist Freddy “The Frog” Alvarez, (Henry Golding), nautical expert Henry “Haysey” Hayes (Hero Fiennes Tiffin ), skilled strategist Geoffrey Appleyard (Alex Pettyfer), and Marjorie Stewart (Eiza González), the lone skirt known for her unmatched prowess with a gun and seductive subterfuge

Heron and Stewart work on the island of Fernando Po, in the armpit of Africa, where the Germans have staged supplies and munitions for refueling U boats in the Atlantic. Heron will supply the parties, the alcohol, and the relaxed atmosphere, sort of a South Casablanca for war criminals, while Stewart will supply the distraction. Meanwhile, March-Phillipps and the remaining crew have 15 days to make it by unassuming sailboat past the Brits who want them arrested, and the Germans who kill for sport. Then all they have to do is take down the whole of the German supply chain and make it out with their lives.

The way Guy Ritchie tells it, it must have been an explosive cakewalk.

Is The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare romanticized? Of course, it is, but don’t we love seeing good guys unbothered by conscience shooting Nazis in the face? I know I do.

Using history and Damien Lewis’ book as a focal point, screenwriters Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, and Arash Amel wrangle history into a chaotic fever dream of wartime nostalgia. Guy Ritchie in turn allows the nightmarish backdrop of battle to speak for itself, while allowing the characters to make their individual marks on the screen as their real-life counterparts did in history. The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare offers an ensemble cast that feeds off quips, stealth, and well-timed action, creating a story that effortlessly glides through its two-hour running time.

Henry Cavill disappears completely into March-Phillips and it’s nice to see him on screen without thinking, “hey, there’s Witcher-Superman.” Alan Ritchson, affecting a Danish accent, is a glory to behold as his muscles have muscles. He also knows how to swing an axe, slash with a knife, and shoot a bow.

With his muscles.

It’s hard being the only woman in an ensemble of men who kill things, but Eiza González does not get lost in the sea of testosterone. Smart and reckless without being an unhinged harpy sets her apart from many action heroines. She is cool and calculating in the face of certain death, which makes her a joy to watch. Playing smaller roles but not vanishing into the story are Cary Elwes as Brigadier Gubbins ‘M’ and Freddie Fox as Ian Fleming, who would go on to create the world’s best-known post-war spy. These are the men James Bond was born from, and we are grateful.

It’s also nice to see the English working through their trauma of WWII with something fun and action-packed, where people aren’t losing limbs or having their faces blown off after professing their love to a WAAC nurse. Guy Ritchie would rather not bog down his version of war with tragedy.

Based on the book The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: How Churchill’s Secret Warriors Set Europe Ablaze and Gave Birth to Modern Black Ops by Damien Lewis (2014, Quercus), there are other missions this Special Forces Ops completes with varying degrees of success, but I’m not sure I would want to see a franchise develop from the missions it highlights. As a one-off, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is a light, if graphic, tour of international conflict, rooted in a history that took decades and generations to rebuild from. These were real people who gave their lives, and I don’t think anyone would want that sullied with sequels and the risk of diminishing returns. Let’s enjoy this single film for what it is – blowing up Nazis because they deserve it.

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare (2024) is Rated R for clever English swears, people getting axed, stabbed, slashed, shot with arrows, machine guns and grenades, punched in the face, tortured, drowned, and blown up.

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: MontiLee Stormer
MontiLee Stormer is a writer of horror, dark and urban fantasy. She’s also is a troublemaker, concocting acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. An avid movie watcher, she prefers horror but will see just about anything if you're buying. Poltergeist (1982) is her favorite movie and she actively hates The Shining (1980) due to its racism, misogyny, the butchering of the source material. She could host a TEDtalk on this single subject. Writing about herself in the third person is just a bonus.

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