‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’ review: Guy Ritchie blows up history

Henry Cavill stars in Guy Ritchie's
Henry Cavill plays Gus March-Phillips.

movie review


Running time: 120 minutes. Rated R (strong violence throughout and some language). In theaters.

When the words “based on a true story” flash before a Guy Ritchie movie, you can’t help but laugh.

Because for this director, that’s short for “Yeah, the names are real, but barely any of what you’re about to see actually happened.”

I’m fine with that. In the case of Ritchie’s dudely diversion “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” flipping history books the bird is the right call.

For our amusement, he chooses fun over facts.

The 82-year-old event the “Wrath of Man” director is mangling is Operation Postmaster — a British World War II effort in which a group of rogues were secretly sent to the coast of Africa to steal a Nazi supply ship.

Without that precious cargo, German submarines couldn’t function, thus allowing American forces to cross the Atlantic and join the war effort.

A band of rogues is tasked with commandeering a Nazi supply vessel in “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.” AP
A band of rogues is tasked with commandeering a Nazi supply vessel in “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.” AP

You won’t be surprised to learn that the op’s Wikipedia page is a lot duller than this hugely entertaining movie of badass shootouts, explosions and typically eccentric humor.

“An unsanctioned, unauthorized and unofficial mission,” says “M” (Cary Elwes) of the risky plan endorsed by Winston Churchill (Rory Kinnear). A young Ian Fleming (Freddie Fox) is involved in the plot, too. Much of the eventual James Bond author’s inspiration came from his time working for Naval Intelligence.

To do their dirty work, they recruit Gus March-Phillipps (Henry Cavill), a gruff and unorthodox commando with a talent for killing.

Henry Cavill plays Gus March-Phillipps. AP
Henry Cavill plays Gus March-Phillipps. AP

He is to discreetly — ha! — sail to the Spanish-controlled neutral colony Fernando Po and nab the big boat, along with Anders “The Danish Hammer” Lassen (Alan Ritchson), unfazed Geoffrey Appleyard (Alex Pettyfer), diver and explosives expert Freddy Alvarez (Henry Golding) and young Henry Hayes (Hero Fiennes Tiffin).

You could make a drinking game out of all these Henrys.

Once near the island, they liaison with spies Heron (Babs Olusanmokun) and Marjorie (Eiza González), a Jewish femme fatale who wants to take revenge on the Germans.

And, in a scene that 100% never happened, she seductively sings a rendition of “Mack the Knife” at a Nazi soiree.

Eiza Gonzalez is a badass femme fatale out for revenge. AP
Eiza Gonzalez is a badass femme fatale out for revenge. AP

Ritchie is tops when it comes to getting a group of guys (and, occasionally, gal) together to complete a bloody, belligerent task. And this is as taut an ensemble of his as ever.

Cavill is, for a change, an unkempt and unruly good time in a role that doesn’t demand he be remotely super. (His last film, the heinous “Argylle,” had him play a boring spy.) His hair is wild and curly, and his mustache should get its own IMDb page.

And how refreshing it is to see Golding — Mr. Debonair since starring in “Crazy Rich Asians” — playing a grungy non-billionaire.

Other than the offbeat performances, however, there are no surprises of shocks in this story. It’s a Point A to Point B journey that comes down to wisecracking blokes shooting Nazis. Only Guy Ritchie can turn such a setup into a pleasure cruise.