‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’ Review: Guy Ritchie Bends History With Thrilling Results

It's violent, stylish and showcases a lesser-known tale from World War II that was only declassified recently—even if some of the movie's story isn’t quite true. 

Alex Pettyfer, Alan Ritchson, Henry Cavill, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, and Henry Goldin (from left) in The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. Daniel Smith

Let’s be honest: however valuable or deeply emotional, World War II movies can be a slog. A game-changing global conflict which continues to impact descendants of those involved certainly warrants seriousness. But history doesn’t always have to require such intensity onscreen. Guy Ritchie and his collaborators on The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare understand this, crafting a World War II movie based on actual events with surprisingly buoyancy and high-octane energy—even if some of the story isn’t quite true. 

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Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Written by: Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Arash Amel, Guy Ritchie
Starring: Henry Cavill, Eiza González, Alan Ritchson, Alex Pettyfer, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Babs Olusanmokun, Henry Golding, Cary Elwes
Running time: 120 mins.

The film, directed and co-written by Ritchie, stars Henry Cavill as real-life British secret operative Gus March-Phillipps, who was an inspiration for James Bond. The surly, highly skilled March-Phillipps is tasked with leading a group of renegade agents on a mission from England to Fernando Po in West Africa to destroy the ships supplying the Nazi U-boats. The team—which includes Alan Ritchson’s deadly Anders Lassen, Hero Fiennes Tiffin’s Henry Hayes, and Henry Golding’s Freddy Alvarez—is either based on or inspired by real people, although some liberties have been taken. The spies board a fishing vessel and sail south, stopping on the way to raid a Nazi camp where fellow agent Geoffrey Appleyard (Alex Pettyfer) is being held. Although no shots were ever fired on the historical Operation Postmaster, the team leaves piles of dead Nazis in their wake, many disemboweled, blown up or shot with a bow and arrow by Lassen. 

In the meantime, a second team of British agents is on the ground in Fernando Po, readying for the operation. They include Eiza González’s sexed up take on Marjorie Stewart, a real-life agent who was not part of Operation Postmaster, and Babs Olusanmokun’s more effective Mr. Heron, an amalgam character. Marjorie seduces and distracts Nazi chief Heinrich Luhr (Til Schweiger, who played a similar character in Inglourious Basterds) while Mr. Heron conceives two parties that will take place while the spies infiltrate the harbor. There are few setbacks, but ultimately the audience gets to see the mission unfold in as a high-stakes caper that involves a few more deaths than your typical espionage thriller. 

Eiza González in The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. Daniel Smith

Despite any historical inaccuracies, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is a fun, well-told movie that doesn’t overanalyze itself. Much of this is thanks to Ritchie’s flamboyant, quick-paced style, which serves him well here. Some of the dialogue and action was improvised day by day on set, a typical occurrence in a Ritchie project, and there’s a flashy, breeziness that is enjoyable to watch. Sure, history buffs are going to be annoyed. And yes, some of the killing is gratuitous. But the cast, especially Ritchson, chews the scenery and spits it out with great fervor. It’s violent, stylish and presented with flair while showcasing a lesser-known tale from the war that was only declassified recently. 

There are a few hiccups, including the characterization of Marjorie, but Ritchie makes a real case for bringing a sense of humor to World War II cinema. It feels like a companion piece to Inglourious Basterds, although this one may be more tongue-in-cheek than Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 hit. Ritchson in particular steals the show, proving himself to be an invaluable action star as Lassen takes down an entire boat of men with zeal. Cavill too is clearly having fun as March- Phillipps, a man who doesn’t listen to orders and is going to do things his own way despite the consequences. In that regard, he’s not dissimilar to Ritchie, an auteur filmmaker who imbues each story with his own particular vision. It’s compelling to see his take on a World War II movie, despite a few narrative holes, and it’s a good reminder that not all war stories have to be so serious. 


‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’ Review: Guy Ritchie Bends History With Thrilling Results