‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’ Takes Liberties & Delivers Explosive Fun

The cast of The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

The cast of The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

Daniel Smith/Lionsgate

Funny, suspenseful, and full of intrigue, Guy Ritchie’s latest film, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, plays loose with factual events in service of a smashing good time. Based on a true story and the novel by Damien Lewis (not Damian Lewis), we follow a British team in WWII on a secret mission to take out a Nazi supply chain. The opening scene sets the tone, in which German soldiers board a private yacht. The two men aboard claim to be Swedish fishermen and taunt the Germans as they search the boat. Below deck, a third crewman pops out with a machine gun and begins mowing down the Nazis, which triggers the boys above to take out the other soldiers – quickly, brutally, and comically. 

They wave to the nearby German battleship with one of the dead bodies before detonating the massive boat. These are our heroes – soaked in righteous blood, clad in comedy and camaraderie.

British combat tactics in 1942 were still a variation on “civilized” battle, but Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Rory Kinnear) understands this won’t win the war. Since Hitler isn’t playing by the rules, neither will they. Operation Postmaster is undertaken at his direction, and he makes clear the mission is “unsanctioned, unofficial, and unauthorized.” One of the mission’s objectives is to prove Britain could get its hands dirty when necessary, thereby convincing America to enter the war and increasing the Allies’ chance at victory. The operation heralded a new era of black ops. Among its military staff was Ian Fleming (Freddie Fox), who based his James Bond novels on his experience in the SOE.

Alan Ritchson as Lassen with a bow and arrow in The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

Alan Ritchson as Lassen in The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare


Above all else, the film is an ensemble piece with a stellar cast. Leading the first team is Gus March-Phillips (Henry Cavill), a devil-may-care army major known for not following orders. Cavill has never been more charming, and he proves his comedic chops while sporting the best facial hair of his career. His crew consists of Lassen (Alan Ritchson), Freddy (Henry Golding), Hayes (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), and Appleyard (Alex Pettyfer). Ritchson is of particular note, standing out due to his massive size and enthusiastic violence. His character is an expert archer who kills both with precise arrows but is equally skilled with a knife or ax.

A second team of two undercover agents set the groundwork for the boys’ arrival on the Spanish-controlled island of Fernando Po. There’s Heron (Babs Olusanmokun), who owns the main bar there and will be throwing a party to distract all the German and Spanish officers while March-Phillips’ crew sinks three ships in the harbor. Then we have Marjorie Stewart (Eiza González), tasked with seducing and distracting the principal Nazi officer, Luhr (Til Schweiger). 

González as the real-life Stewart is spellbinding, and par for the course in a Ritchie film, she’s essentially the only woman. This misses an opportunity to showcase the many women actively participating in SOE operations. Stewart is clever, quick-thinking, and can “outshoot your best man” – which she demonstrates by sharpshooting with every gun in her vicinity. Hats off to the costume designers here – her fashion game is immaculate.

Eiza González as Marjorie Stewart in an old timey photo in The Ministry Of Ungentlemanly Warfare

Eiza González as Marjorie Stewart in The Ministry Of Ungentlemanly Warfare

Daniel Smith Photography/Lionsgate

Most of the team represents the real people who performed the months of detailed espionage. The mission was revealed to the public in 2016 after a number of Churchill’s files were declassified. But you don’t need to be a history buff or even follow the plot that closely — The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare plays out more like a caper movie, but violent and with much higher stakes. Smaller missions lead to the larger, main event: a daring and highly coordinated plan that goes awry when the team learns key intel at the last minute. The real-life operation was much less flashy than the action-packed sequences in which the good guys massacre dozens of enemies to achieve their goals. But accuracy isn’t what we’re here for. The film and its audience prioritize entertainment, and it works. Most of the team have personal motives to hate Nazis, so it slakes the soul when our heroes deliver the ultimate judgment via bullet or blade.

Although very different, this film begs comparisons to Quentin Tarantino’s much bloodier Inglourious Basterds, the revenge fantasy where Jewish American soldiers assassinate Nazi leaders in WWII. At their core, both films milk the concept of death as entertainment, specifically the satisfaction of watching Nazis get snuffed out. This is entertaining, as Nazis are the ultimate guilt-free bogeymen, but reveling in murder is still uncomfortable when you consider it objectively.

Despite the murky topic of violence as gratification, this movie excels at telling a tight, compelling story. It’s exciting and damn good fun, with excellent performances all around. 

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare opens in theaters on Friday, April 19, 2024. 

Marni Cerise headshot

A writer since her childhood introduction to Shel Silverstein, Marni adores film, cats, Brits, and the Oxford comma. She studied screenwriting at UARTS and has written movie, TV, and pop culture reviews for Ani-Izzy.com, and Wizards and Whatnot. You can usually catch her watching Hot Fuzz for the thousandth time. Find her very sparse social media presence on Twitter: @CeriseMarni

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