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The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

“How Churchill’s Secret Warriors Set Europe Ablaze and Gave Birth to Modern Black Ops.” Damien Lewis (from subtitle of his book)

Having matured as a filmgoer in the 60’s, I loved the derring-do, guns-for-hire adventures like Dirty Dozen and Professionals. Now Guy Ritchie has renewed the genre with The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, a semi-fictional story wherein a group of mavericks is hired by British WWII leaders, including Churchill (Rory Kinnear), to neutralize the Nazi machine that produces U boats menacing Brits in the North Atlantic.

Among the Brit officers is a young Ian Fleming (Freddie Fox), pre-James Bond—in fact, the lead maverick, Gus March-Phillips (Henry Cavill), may have been Fleming’s model for Bond. The enterprise cannot be acknowledged by the Brits if the team is caught, and the Nazis would execute them. This based-on-a-true story is heroic by any definition.

Ministry is an A movie for “adventure” and a B for badinage, making it a solid fit for summer escapism and a whiff of history. The subdued quips are Ritchie’s renovation—fewer wise-guy asides and more unsubtle action. Henry Cavill nicely underplays the usually out-there leader such as Lee Marvin did. Much more bonhomie with Cavill.

Ritchie also updates the genre by referring to Casablanca more than once. Good company. What he doesn’t do is ratchet up the suspense, as in say Guns of Navarone. In fact, each encounter with the Nazis is too easy for the gang to navigate. Ritchie is relaxed with the conflict.

Gus’s cohorts are a mix of Dwayne Johnson and Steve McQueen types with a little Strother Martin on the side. Adding a sharpshooting femme fatale, Marjorie Stewart (Eiza Gonzalez), is a much-appreciated upgrade. She lends a sophisticated and deathly beauty, a danger for which the Nazis didn’t quite account.

Ritchie owes Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds in its setup and tone, although his execution is uneven: sometimes irreverent, sometimes grim. But, hey, it’s almost summer and we’re relaxing with a movie that does not claim to be historically accurate or artistically high. It’s plain fun.

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

Director: Guy Ritchie (Snatch, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Sherlock Holmes, Lock Stock and Two Smoking barrels)

Screenplay: Ritchie, et al.

Cast: Henry Cavill (Man of Steele, Justice League, Enola Holmes)

Run Time: 2h

Rating: R


John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take (recently listed by Feedspot as two of the ten best NPR Movie Podcasts) out of WCBE 90.5 FM, Columbus, Ohio. Contact him at


John DeSando