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Nazi-Killing Romp ‘Ministry Of Ungentlemanly Warfare’ Harks Back To The Bygone Era Of Fun Films

This action-packed film embraces the good-versus-evil dichotomy of World War II as Allied commandos rain fury on the Nazis.


Sometimes an old-fashioned, Nazi-killing romp is just what the movies need. And that’s exactly what “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” brings to the cinema. The film, very loosely based on the real-life exploits of World War II British special operators, eschews politics in favor of humor, action, and plenty of Nazi-centric violence.

It tells the story of Operation Postmaster, a scheme to undermine the Nazi U-boat menace by interdicting some of the critical supplies that enabled them to prowl the Atlantic for months at a time, sinking the merchant vessels that kept Britain in the war. To do so, the motley crew that was the early British Special Operations Executive (SOE) was tasked to disrupt German supply lines by going after a key Italian tanker in the neutral Spanish port of Fernando Po, an island off the west coast of Africa.

The plot takes many action-oriented liberties with the historical facts — the death toll of Operation Postmaster was zero, compared to the scores of Nazi killings in the movie, for instance — but the changes keep the film moving forward at a highly enjoyable pace.

The film stars Henry Cavill as the semi-disgraced Major Gus March-Phillipps, potentially one of the real-life inspirations behind the character of James Bond, with his crew of talented misfits filled out by Captain Geoffrey Appleyard (Alex Pettyfer), the Danish commando Anders Lassen (Alan Ritchson), March-Phillipps’ Irish protégé Henry Hayes (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), and the demolitions expert Freddy Alvarez (Henry Golding).

These men are chosen to undertake the dangerous, unofficial mission — unsanctioned by the British government due to its violation of Spanish neutrality — because of their reckless past conduct, ranging from willful disobedience of orders to criminal arson and unsanctioned field executions. That makes them expendable, but also quite proficient in irregular warfare. In essence, they are something of a World War II Suicide Squad.

In a throwback to the ’90s and aughts movie landscape, “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” is a film that never takes itself too seriously, despite being a war picture. All too often these days, historical war movies are heavy-handed, modern-day message-laden, and outright antiwar in tenor and plot. Think Netflix’s “All Quiet on the Western Front,” Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon,” and essentially anything about America’s modern conflicts. Ritchie’s take on the genre is refreshing: It eschews moral complexity for a strong moral compass, clearly takes a side (the right one, I might add), and is quite humorous and lighthearted, despite the graphic violence.

The film is staunchly pro-British and anti-Nazi, painting the protagonist antiheroes as genuinely justified in their bloodlust for the foe. The main German villain, Heinrich Luhr (played very well by Til Schweiger), is a severe antisemite who gets his rocks off torturing, sexually abusing, and killing local women. In short, he isn’t humanized in the fashion of Quentin Tarantino’s Colonel Hans Landa from “Inglourious Basterds,” in many ways a more highbrow version of this movie.

That may make the film less compelling to discerning cinephiles, but it makes it a lot more fun for the average viewer. The morality of killing Nazis in war is never questioned, nor are our protagonists forced to wallow in post-slaughter emotion. Instead, they crack wise, compete for high scores, and essentially act like tigers playing with their food. The humor is darkly funny, including a scene where Lassen goes after a roomful of Nazis with an axe and an ear-to-ear grin.

In another throwback to an earlier era of film, “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” is diverse without being woke. That may seem like a bit of a paradox, but it makes perfect sense in the context of the plot. Many characters who aid our Fearsome Fivesome are black, including a British special agent and local entrepreneur, Heron (Babs Olusanmokun), and a small army of African toughs led by the Eton-educated cricketer, status-seeker, and local noble Kambili Kalu (Danny Sapani).

In other movies, this casting would be used to bash the viewer over the head with modern race dialogue or take him out of the historical frame. In “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” however, race is barely mentioned at all, and the casting makes sense given the primary location of the action in West Africa. Similarly, the female protagonist, Marjorie Stewart (Eiza González), is set up as a weapons ace, a slick talker, and an integral part of the mission. She is a strong female character without being a walking feminist talking point, but she isn’t a mere love interest either. She is treated as an indispensable member of the team and pulls her weight fully.

Another powerful aspect of her character particularly resonates in 2024: her Jewishness. In the film, Stewart’s particular beef with the Nazis is the fact that her German-Jewish family was one of the first taken to the concentration camps, but she isn’t portrayed as a powerless victim or a damsel in distress. Nor is she shown as an oppressor, as Jews are often portrayed in leftist cultural circles.

Instead, she is a powerful woman who can fend for herself, has a drive to defeat the odds, and never gives up, all of which are proven throughout the film. After the national trauma of Oct. 7 and the subsequent leftist attacks on Israel as a genocidal state for the crime of simply defending itself, this portrayal of a self-reliant and righteous Jewish woman is a much-needed riposte to the prevailing Hollywood culture. Plus, she is very adept at killing Nazis.

The film’s more minor characters, including the future James Bond creator Ian Fleming (Freddie Fox) — in reality, a prime player in the early SOE — and the spymaster “M” (Cary Elwes), are well-acted and are able to keep the roaring pace of the movie going even in expository or connective scenes.

As with most Guy Ritchie flicks, “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” is incredibly stylish and is full of visual panache. The tropical island of Fernando Po is visualized beautifully, action scenes are well-directed and choreographed, and the costuming is inventive and fun. Ritchie’s trademark snappy dialogue and witty banter permeate the script and bring both levity and a heist-movie feel to this war picture, differentiating it from much of the overly self-serious fare in the genre.

One of the only negatives in this otherwise enjoyable film is Rory Kinnear’s portrayal of Winston Churchill, who is an active character throughout. The writing for the great statesman is fine, but Kinnear looks nothing like him and puts on a terrible impression more fit for parody. It’s a shame, as Kinnear is a good actor and Churchill is, well, Churchill.

Still, that lone item of detraction does nothing to diminish the fact that “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” is a highly enjoyable movie. Its lack of politicization beyond the positive embrace of the obvious good-versus-evil dichotomy of World War II allows the story to flourish and keeps the viewer in the well-paced and tightly written narrative arc.

When diversity enters the film, it is either perfectly appropriate for the historical setting or used to bolster the characters in compelling ways. The portrayal of Jewish people as a powerful force for good hits home, especially now.

Ritchie’s directing brings style, violence, and humor to the film, adapting a fascinating but somewhat banal historical footnote into a thrilling, action-packed romp with interesting characters and a properly staked plot. “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” feels like nothing else in theaters. In that, it is truly a return to an earlier, better era of movies.

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