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Is the ‘Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’ worth watching? 

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Ministry of Ungentlemany Warfare poster

Who doesn’t love a good war movie? It’s not uncommon for movies to occupy more than one genre, but one blend we rarely see is the comedic war film. Off the top of my head, we have In The Army Now, Inglorious Bastards, and well, does Stripes count? And now, we also have the World War II action comedy The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, which is inspired by a true story, to add to the list. 

Let’s dig into it! 

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare was released in April and I was anxious to see it. The film, directed by Guy Ritchie, stars Henry Cavill as the leader of a group of lovable rogues on a British Black Operation in Africa. Cavill plays Major Gus March-Phillips, a colorful leader of the commando force who leads an interesting crew. 

We have a revenge-fueled, heavily muscled Swede; a frogman with a penchant for explosives; an experienced sailor; and a master planner. The men are on an unauthorized operation that will get them killed by the Nazis and imprisoned by the British if they’re discovered. They report directly to a handler known as M and his assistant named Ian Fleming. Yes, the same Ian Fleming who wrote the James Bond novels. In fact, it’s widely believed that James Bond was based on the real Gus March-Philips. 

Their goal is to sink a ship that is resupplying German U-boats, since if the U-boats aren’t stopped, the Americans can’t get into the fight. Their mission is of dire importance, but the higher-ups of the British government believe Hitler can be negotiated with, so they disapprove of any such mission. So, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, M, and Fleming are all working behind the scenes to get the crew of commandos where they need to be. 

Working separately from March-Philips’s team, two Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents are also after the same goal: Marjorie Stewart, a real-life actress and singer who worked with the British SOE, and fictional SOE Agent Mr. Heron, who owns a club the Axis powers drink at.

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Action and comedy 

Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare action shot
The British team’s chemistry elevates the movie. (Lionsgate)

The movie is an entertaining romp with a charming and often hilarious cast who seem like they are having a blast, and their chemistry is fantastic.

The commandos act like smooth criminals: they are barely ever surprised and always keep a cool head. They trade quips and make fun of Nazis as they chew their way through throngs of enemy soldiers. 

Although it’s a predictable movie, it’s still enjoyable. Its action is fun, but it’s nothing thrilling or standout. The real charm of the film comes from the actors and cast.

However, the movie lacks a notable villain. The head Nazi is a generic bad guy. He’s no Hans Landa from Inglorious Bastards and is more annoying than menacing and simply isn’t memorable. Everything outside of our crew of commandos just seems plain. Still, it’s a fun flick that is worth seeing in theatres. 

But how accurate is it? (Minor spoilers ahead!)

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The real Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

SOE operatives attending demolition class
SOE operatives attending a demolition class, 1944. (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

Movies have to be entertaining. In reality, even a black op was likely fraught with tons of downtime and boredom. Although the British government did oppose the mission, it was because of Spanish neutrality since Spain owned the African colony where the operation took place. The little things like March-Phillip’s incarceration are fictional, but other things, like Anders carrying a bow, are very real. 

Most of the men in the film have a real-life equivalent, and sadly, most died before the war ended.

It’s true that Major March-Phillips led a small crew on a fishing boat, but the operation required more than five men, and another troop transport carried the rest of the commandos. The commandos were already established as part of the SOE and were part of the No. 62 Commando, specifically the Small Scale Raiding Force. The real mission involved stealing three Italian vessels, and the Commando team was successful in their mission. 

Much like the film, the colony’s Axis soldiers were distracted by a party thrown by an SOE agent. The commando force did have to blow the anchor chains to escape. However, the actual operation was successful without a shot being fired. The Nazis were caught with their pants down, often literally. They surrendered immediately and were kicked off the boat. 

The Commando team turned the ships over to the British Navy, and the SOE got a huge reputational boost as a result of its success. The Germans were embarrassed and a propaganda war ensued. The operation was kept top secret until it was declassified in 2016. 

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is a ton of fun and a great popcorn action flick. The fact that it’s based on real heroes who conducted a real operation only makes it more interesting.

I recommend watching the movie and then reading the book about the operation. I have already placed my order, and I can’t wait to learn a bit more about the real men behind one of Britain’s most successful black ops. 

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Travis Pike

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines, and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.