The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

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After thinking that virtually every real-life World War II story has been converted to a major film, some documents are declassified and inspire or at least imply new tales of heroism. “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” is based on what can only be called secret history stuff from 2016 as stated in the credits and directed by Guy Ritchie who also penned the script alongside Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, and Arash Amel.

This is also according to its credits that it was adapted from Damien Lewis’s book Churchill’s Secret Warriors: The Explosive True Story of the Special Forces Desperados of World War II which came out in 2014. Although Giles Milton did write a book titled The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare in 2017, it apparently wasn’t used for this movie.

Perplexed? Imagine my feelings when the fictionalized Winston Churchill (Rory Kinnear) complains about America not entering into WWII despite this movie claiming to open in 1942. Like Pearl Harbor never happened! Of course, it only happened in December 1941 while this movie begins over there in January 1942 after a thrilling opening scene where Our Heroes – big-chested with hairy faces looking like they had popped out from a Jack Kirby comic strip of sixties (the photos shown of real people during life’s credits were more like weaklings from Britain) – literally send not just a small group but an entire gunship flying off their innocent looking “fishing boat” before we get to see title (“25 days before”) that I’m sitting watching it all and doing mental arithmetic… Is anything wrong with calculations?

Just don’t think about any of these things if you want to watch this picture. Besides, Churchill’s point about the film is more related to how the Atlantic happens to be infested with German U-boats that would certainly level any American vessel carrying supplies or personnel. British military intelligence in the person of Cary Elwes and Freddie Fox (playing Ian Fleming, yes that one) cooks up a plan whereby a special ops force will sail down to the Gulf of Guinea and sink a ship full of goodies for those previously mentioned U-boats. The subs cannot operate without them, thus at least partly solving the shipping-across-the-Atlantic problem with which we are concerned here.

The movie gives a “Dirty Dozen”/“Inglorious Basterds” tone. Beard and moustache adorned extravagantly, Henry Cavill is Gus March Phillips and he appears in front of the top brass for the first time wearing a pair of handcuffs. He makes his team from them that appear like nothing more than rebels, rogues and outlaws with one really huge chested man who can shoot arrows very well (Alan Richson). But what use is an expert marksman during a firefight?

With such weapons you can silently eliminate Nazis on guard towers hence it is useful when freeing someone held hostage by Germans. There are also other members including the usual explosives expert among others. (Henry Golding and Alex Pettyfer are among those playing these havoc-causing characters) On the ground is a femme fatale played by Eiza Gonzalez and an undercover agent running a bar at a casino near the port (Babs Olusanmokun) whose plot is to divert attention of Nazis servicing this particular ship.

Unlike Alex Garland’s “Civil War,” “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” is commendably upfront about its politics. It does not hide its extreme antagonism towards Nazis. No beating around bushes here; basically if you’re German in this film your role is to be shot (with bullets or arrows) or stabbed multiple times in nearly all places where human beings can be stabbed to death painfully. Just before their death, some utter smug Nazi speeches which makes their subsequent deaths even more pleasurable to watch as they suffer miserably.

While titles like “The Dirty Dozen” and so many other WW II films sometimes paused for their soldiers’ sacrifices in lives or limbs offered by Our Own Fighting Forces, “Ministry” has decided never …not to ruin everything but every time any of its heroic combatants seems trapped, there’s only peril…just kidding, there’s always a clever way of getting them out. If WWII itself had gone this smoothly, then the Allies would have reached Berlin before “Casablanca” opened wide. (That was January 1943.)

Ritchie’s trademark action and suspense are expertly put on display while the movie falls short of expectations at times. Despite having four credited writers the dialogue is fairly flat—this is a very British film in which its characters display their Britishness mostly by saying things like “bloody this” and “bloody that”. At one point, however, you will notice historical oddities continue to jar even when you try to switch off your mind relax and float downstream.

Til Schwieger plays a sexually sadistic (of course) Nazi officer who (speaking of “Inglourious Basterds”) has Gonzalez as his captive audience for recordings of “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer,” otherwise known as “Mack the Knife”; later in the movie she sings the song – mostly in English. It seems implausible that a Nazi could ever be partial to such a tune since it was banned during Hitler’s time from Germany where its co-composers Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht were exiled back in 1933 (Weill was Jewish, Brecht a commie) among other things . They would be horrified at the thought that Nazis were enjoying themselves through their works. But we live in strange times; incredibly cheeky I must say.

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