The HoloFiles

REVIEW: The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

By George & Josh Bate

Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare review

In recent years, director Guy Ritchie has quietly become one of Hollywood’s most prolific filmmakers. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ritchie has helmed four films, with another two on the way. And, in recent years, Ritchie has forged a more unique career, as he has hopped back and forth from big franchise films like Aladdin to smaller, more intimate stories like The Covenant to his bread-and-butter London gangster flicks like The Gentlemen.

Ritchie’s latest work is The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, based on the novel Churchill’s Secret Warriors: The Explosive True Story of the Special Forces Desperadoes of WWII by Damien Lewis. Ministry portrays a fictionalized version of Operation Postmaster, a secret special operation conducted by the British during World War II. The operation sees Major Gus March-Philipps (played by Henry Cavill) lead a team of rogue soldiers to the Spanish island of Fernando Po with the aim of destroying German U-boats stationed there. While March-Philipps leads his team to the island near West Africa, undercover operative Marjorie Stewart (played by Eiza González) is already there trying to ingratiate herself with the Nazi in charge Heinrich Luhr (played by Til Schweiger) in order to help March-Philipps and company execute their mission.

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is best characterized as a World War II espionage movie. It serves as a sort of proto-James Bond film (for more reasons that one) in depicting agents going undercover, undertaking daring missions, and ingratiating themselves with the enemy. James Bond author Ian Fleming is actually a character in the film, which is fitting given that Fleming actually served for Britain’s Naval Intelligence Division during World War II. Interestingly, Fleming’s main source of inspiration for his character of James Bond was Gus March-Phillips, Cavill’s character in Ministry. In this sense, Ritchie’s film delightfully evokes the tone of earlier Sean Connery and Roger Moore-led James Bond films, while simultaneously leaning into the espionage thrills that made Fleming’s original novels so great.

Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare review

And, like the early James Bond films, Ministry is spearheaded by charisma personified. Delivering a decidedly different performance than usual, star Henry Cavill exudes charisma as the film’s lead character. From his role as Superman to his work in The Witcher, Cavill is known for his stoic performances as formidible, almost indestructible characters. In fact, such stoicism had been a leading criticism of his take on Superman, especially when compared to the jovial performance of Christopher Reeve in the same role. Under Ritchie’s direction in Ministry, however, Cavill delightfully shows a new side of his acting repertoire. Cavill adopts a heightened, almost exaggerated, proper English accent as he hams up his performance. Cavill’s March-Philipps is a well-intentioned yet unruly leader of a group of rogue operatives undertaking a seemingly impossible mission and Cavill excels both as the film’s lead character and as a member of a broader ensemble.

Following Cavill, the most prominent member of Ministry‘s ensemble is Eiza González. Ritchie and his three other co-writers structure the film around two camps of characters, each of which tackles one side of Operation Postmaster. The film fluctuates from a scene focusing on Cavill and company’s story to a scene focusing on González’s story for the vast majority of the runtime, until the final moments in which the plotlines converge. Despite González delivering a charming and heightened performance (also bostering an exaggerated English accent), the half of the film that focuses on her character is less interesting than the half of the film that focuses on Cavill and company. González commits to her performance and plays a suave undercover agent exceptionally well. And there are certainly some tense moments that come about from her plot in the film. But, overall, one can’t help but be more interested in the more energetic and compelling scenes featuring Cavill’s March-Philipps and the other members of his team.

The other members of this team include Alan Ritchson as Anders Lassen, Henry Golding as Freddy Alvarez, Hero Fiennes Tiffin as Henry Hayes, and Alex Pettyfer as Geoffrey Appleyard. And, if there is a criticism to be had of The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, it is that this ensemble feels too bloated. As an adaptation of a true story, this criticism can be forgiven slightly as the filmmakers likely wanted to make the film as accurate as possible. However, none of the characters outside of Cavill’s March-Philipps and González’s Marjorie Stewart to much to stand out.

Henry Golding’s character, for instance, has no arc or personal storyline at all, and is largely reduced to a member of the team who blows things up. While he serves the mission well, his inclusion makes some scenes feel unnecessarily crowded and showcase that Golding is a talent deserving of more than such a limited role.

The same can be said of Pettyfer’s Appleyard. Pettyfer enters the film as a specialized member of the team that March-Philipps must break out of Nazi confinement. Appleyard is wanted for his masterful intelligence and espionage strategy, but Pettyfer never lives up to the description of this character, describing as being absolutely necessary to the achievement of this mission.

If any of the other side characters standout it’s Alan Ritchson’s Anders Lassen. Ritchson is behind the film’s best laughs. coupled his massive muscular frame with a comical Danish accent.

As a high octane war film, the enjoyability of The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is largely dependent on how the action scenes come out. Guy Ritchie shows his experience in this regard by handling various elaborate combat sequences with confidence and character throughout. Akin to the film’s overall tone and performances, there is a heightened and comical element to all of the action sequences, the kind that one admires for being so bad-ass while cracking a smile because there’s something funny about it all. Most of the climax takes place under the shroud of darkness yet less lighting doesn’t hinder these scenes at all (as it has in some big blockbuster Marvel movies, for instance). Rather, the time of day only serves to make the ending more atmospheric and contributes to the film’s wacky, offbeat tone.

Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare review

VERDICT: 7.5/10

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare sees prolific director Guy Ritchie add another win to his impressive recent filmography. The film’s heavily fictionalized take on Operation Postmaster leans heavily into James Bond influences, making the film feel like a proto-James Bond film in more ways than one. Henry Cavill trades in the stoicism for an abudance of charisma as he leads a crowded ensemble of characters. Eiza González demonstrates versatility in her acting ability with a performance unlike anything we’ve seen from her before, despite her storyline in the film being less interesting than Cavill and company’s. Heightened and confident action, brisk pacing, witty dialogue, and a fun tone make The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare a great time at the movies and demonstrate that Ritchie delivers quality and quantity as he continues this run of being one of the industry’s most prolific directors.

The HoloFiles

The HoloFiles is a website and series of social media accounts, including Star Wars Holocron, Marvel Tesseract, DC Motherbox, Film Codex, and Horror Necronomicon. We love cinema and television, and aim to spread positivity across different fandoms. Come to us for news, reviews, interviews, trivia facts, quotes, behind the scenes photos, analytic features, and more!