The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare (2024)

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare Review

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

Release date: April 19, 2024 (USA)
Director: Guy Ritchie
Distributed by: Lionsgate, Lionsgate Films
Based on: Churchill’s Secret Warriors: The Explosive True Story of the Special Forces Desperadoes of WWII; by Damien Lewis
Box office: $24.3 million
Music by: Christopher Benstead

I usually fly every other month and I always think about one thing: what makes a great airplane movie? Not movies about being on planes. Movies to watch on planes, that will make the three to nine hours in a tin can, squeezed between strangers, eating tiny pretzels and trying not to order another gin and tonic, go by.

“The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” directed by Guy Ritchie, is a perfect airplane movie. That’s not a compliment, but it’s not exactly an insult either. Some movies should never be watched on planes — slow artful dramas, or movies that require concentration and good sound (please don’t watch “The Zone of Interest” on your next flight) — but you have to watch something, and so we have movies like these.

Guy Ritchie didn’t always make airplane movies. His early work — frenetic hilarious ribald films like “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch” — needed to be seen in a room full of people roaring with laughter; at least at home with pizza and beer with your friends. In recent years he’s turned darker and more serious with films like “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant,” which would only make the flight tenser.

But when watching “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” which takes a light touch to serious business (that is to say: defeating Nazis), I realized that it fulfilled my three essential principles for an airplane movie.

Principle I: Make It Familiar

“The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” is fictionalized history based on real things discovered fairly recently. During World War II Winston Churchill maybe-sorta-unofficially gave his permission for an unauthorized group of troublemakers to undertake a delicate operation: Sink German supply ships in order to starve U-boats from the North Atlantic so Americans could join the fight. The problem was that the refueling operations, executed via a few Italian boats, were parked on a Spanish-controlled island called Fernando Po, off the coast of West Africa neutral territory. An official British campaign would have caused the rest of unaligned Europe to join up with the Nazis. So it had to be done secretly.

That really happened; it all came out when Churchill’s personal files were declassified in 2016. In that sense, it’s a new story.

But it’s also an old one, probably because nothing makes Hollywood happier than movies about how we beat the bad guys in World War II. It’s comforting. You know who you’re supposed to root for pretty much from lights down. You can do all sorts of things that wouldn’t fly otherwise: Make sure all of the villains (i.e., Nazis) are slow and dumb and get cut down quickly by the rogue squad of tough guys with guns and the good guys are handsome and quippy and skilled. Character development? Never heard of her.

The familiarity comes with a bonus: “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” gets through its story in two hours flat, which increases your odds of actually seeing the end before landing but if you don’t make it there is no worry because you already knew what happened.

Principle II: Make It Repetitive

This is also a principle among the list of what makes a good movie to stream. Distractions are hard to avoid: dogs, doorbells, kitchen snacks, Instagram. Plane distractions are different: disruptive neighbors, captains’ rhapsodies regarding altitude, drink carts, general loudness. A screenplay that is clear and repetitive is required – one that follows the ancient principles hammered into us by teachers and preachers: Tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them it, then tell them what you told them.

Occurring frequently in “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” which was adapted by four screenwriters from Damien Lewis’s nonfiction book “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: How Churchill’s Secret Warriors Set Europe Ablaze and Gave Birth to Modern Black Ops,” this occurs quite a bit. Gus March-Phillipps (a mustachioed Henry Cavill), who is good with a gun and refuses orders leads the band of rogues. He brings munitions expert Freddy Alvarez (Henry Golding), ship’s captain Henry Hayes (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), strategist Geoffrey Appleyard (Alex Pettyfer) and comically ripped Dane Anders Lassen (Alan Ritchson) together; actress Marjorie Stewart (Eiza González) and Fernando Po’s premiere club owner Mr. Heron (Babs Olusanmokun) are also along for the ride.

Early on in the movie. after British intelligence leaders Churchill (Rory Kinnear), Brigadier Gubbins (Cary Elwes) and Ian Fleming (Freddie Fox), the future author of James Bond, discuss the mission and their need to cut off supply lines to the U-boats — March-Phillipps is called in, and they explain the mission to him. Then he explains it to his team. And if I wasn’t miscounting, it’s explained at least one more time.

By the last act of the movie (by which point, yes, said plan has had to shift a little), March-Phillipps is mostly just standing around narrating whether or not the plan is going well. “That wasn’t supposed to happen yet,” he says when something wasn’t supposed to happen yet.

Expository dialogue in great gobs gets tiresome if you’re paying attention. But if you missed what that group of guys was talking about because the snack tray came by, don’t worry: they’ll say it again later.

Principle III: Lower the Stakes

Yes, it actually mattered a whole lot who won World War II, for reasons I hope we all understand. But “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” is very light on those conversations. Characters’ hatred of the Nazis is tied to family members being murdered one character has a Jewish family but the longest and most detailed conversation about stakes suggests that if the Germans win the war everyone will have to eat sausages, cabbage and brown bread forever, and nobody wants that.

We know it’s bigger, but “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” makes World War II smaller to make it brighter, and in doing so, much duller. Lewis’ source book shows how the group changed warfare into something that has dominated conflicts in the 21st century (as the subtitle says), but you wouldn’t get that from watching this movie. And sometimes I wonder what happens when we turn this war all wars, really, since Vietnam into a jaunty comedy about killing and dying. Because nearly everyone alive now experiences war through screens. It’s weird.

But whatever else it is or isn’t, “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” isn’t a good movie. It is not enjoyable, either, if you pay attention to it. But as noise on in the background? As something intermittently amusing? Sure! You could do worse on a plane flight than watch this movie soon enough.

Watch The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare For Free On Gomovies.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top