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The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

  • Film
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare
Photograph: Daniel Smith/Lionsgate

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Guy Ritchie’s ‘The Geezers of Navarone’ is an ammo bag’s worth of breezy fun

Reliability was probably the last thing Guy Ritchie had in mind for his filmmaking future when he unleashed his Tarantino-riffing breakthrough Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels on the world. Yet 26 years on, his cheerfully amusing new wartime spy yarn is exactly that: a sturdy piece of entertainment that he and super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer have made with the ethos that sometimes it’s better to entertain than to shock. 

If that early insolence has mellowed, the old Ritchie blueprint endures in The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: charismatic lads having a laugh, blowing stuff up and nonchalantly dismissing calamities as ‘a spot of bother’. 

The film’s wayward hero is real-life World War II spy Gus March-Phillips (Henry Cavill), who’s hired by Freddie Fox’s naval officer Ian Fleming (yes, that one). Fleming’s in his pre-James Bond phase here, working for an intelligence chief named – care to guess? – ‘M’ (Cary Elwes), on the orders of Winston Churchill (Rory Kinnear).

Gus and his maverick mates (Alan Ritchson, Henry Golding, Alex Pettyfer) are assigned to an apparently impossible task: destroy a German U-boat that’s sitting ominously off a Spanish island. To help, they have fellow spy Marjorie (Baby Driver’s Eiza González) and club owner Richard (Dune’s Babs Olusanmokun), who runs the local port like his own personal Casablanca.

The story is based on real wartime exploits (it’s adapted from a book by Damien Lewis subtitled ‘Churchill’s Mavericks: Plotting Hitler’s Defeat’), but Ritchie and co-writers give it the highest-buff gloss. Unflappable Brits mow down Nazis like game birds against sparkling Med backdrops. It’s tough to get too involved – nicknames pass as character development here – but it’s awfully fun to watch. No shot is missed, no moustache mussed, no wry one-liner remains unsaid.

No shot is missed, no moustaches mussed, no wry one-liner remains unsaid

Backing up the action is a swinging score by Ritchie’s long-time composer Christopher Benstead. It’s so shrewd in its mood shifts that it makes a bigger impact than one of the film’s stars – even the debonair Cavill. And in a movie that readily favours style over substance, costume designer Loulou Bontemps adds essential glamour, while cinematographer Ed Wild turns Turkey into a sunny substitute for Spain.

Cavill’s band of rebels are drolly enthusiastic, which is really all that’s asked of them. Kinnear’s Churchill impersonation falls flat, but Til Schweiger’s chief Nazi is aptly villainous, and Elwes is a delightfully dry M.

Aside from the overlong denouement, the action zips by so quickly that the end notes – about the remarkable true-life team – pull us up short. These extraordinary heroes had no time for larking about. But they’d probably be chuffed to see themselves as spies insouciant enough to inspire 007 himself.

In US theaters Apr 19. Streaming on Prime Video in the UK later in 2024.

Elizabeth Weitzman
Written by
Elizabeth Weitzman

Cast and crew

  • Director:Guy Ritchie
  • Screenwriter:Guy Ritchie, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Arash Amel
  • Cast:
    • Alex Pettyfer
    • Henry Cavill
    • Henry Golding
    • Hero Fiennes Tiffin
    • Rory Kinnear
    • Freddie Fox
    • Babs Olusanmokun
    • Eiza González
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