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The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: Our Gentlemanly Interview and Review

  • In a one-on-one interview with Damien Lewis, author of The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, Hollywood.com delves deeper into the backstory of the Special Operations Executive and its clandestine missions, and gives perspective into Guy Ritchie’s cinematic adaptation.
  • U.S. Release Date: Friday, April 19, 2024 in theaters nationwide
  • Runtime: 120 minutes

Misfit Special Ops

Guy Ritchie’s new action-comedy film The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare presents a fictionalized account of Operation Postmaster, one of the most harrowing covert missions of World War II. The film draws inspiration from its book namesake, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: How Churchill’s Secret Warriors Set Europe Ablaze and Gave Birth to Modern Black Ops by bestselling author Damien Lewis.

The objective of Operation Postmaster­­­­––daunting. Board and capture the Spanish and Italian ships at Fernando Po (now called Bioko) off West Africa and sail them to Lagos.

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Carried out by the pioneers of Black Ops, Great Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), the mission was critical to the Allied wartime effort. To attempt, let alone pull it off against almost insurmountable odds, took recruiting a team of highly skilled misfits–secret operatives who were either geniuses, suicidal, or both.

So how much of the film’s story is true?

Ritchie’s historically inspired cinematic undertaking­ has sparked pre-release online chatter as well as some speculative reporting. But after pre-screening the film for this feature (courtesy of Lionsgate) Hollywood.com felt the answers could only come from the author of the book at its center, historian Damien Lewis.

In a one-on-one interview with Lewis, we delved deep into the backstory of the SOE and its clandestine missions and gained perspective into Guy Ritchie’s cinematic adaptation.

Real or Not?

“These kinds of operations, I don’t think that anybody would actually believe they were true,” Lewis told us about a week before the movie’s US release. “To this day I’m still coming across SOE files and as I read the contents I think ‘No, that is not possible.’ SOE was set up to do all the things that were highly illegal against the rules of war.”

Those things included bribery, corruption, fraud, money laundering, terrorism, and assassinations. “I mean you name it,” Lewis explained. “Every single possible means of waging war which is banned under the Geneva Convention, that’s what SOE was set up to do. That’s why it was so secretive and that’s why it became known as Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.”

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Author Damien Lewis

Much of Lewis’ research for his book came by way of recently declassified files from the British War Department. “[SOE] had huge antipathy from the British Military and political establishment because this was not cricket, this is not how British people were supposed to do things,” he said with a laugh. “So, it was Churchill’s brainchild and Churchill’s kind of bulldog spirit that drove it through and got it to fruition.”

Asked why the filmmakers chose to dramatize Operation Postmaster from among the book’s many daring exploits, Lewis replied, “The great thing about [Operation] Postmaster, it’s got a fantastic beginning, middle, and end. It’s one of those stories, which has a fantastic narrative thread to it. And it’s this small band of brothers. These operators who then go on to do extraordinary things together throughout the war. So, it’s also a great way to set up further movies featuring certain characters … it is, arguably the first ever kind of black deniable operation carried out by forces anywhere in the world. Because these guys were the pioneers, and from their kind of operations grew everything that we know, see, and understand today.”

Alan Ritchson in MoUW. Photo: Dan Smith for Lionsgate

Be the first to buy tickets for the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare HERE.

Pondering the film’s backstory and its influence on world history may not be at the forefront for movie-goers minds. But when asked about the impact this band of secret operators had on history Lewis expressed, “Postmaster was a mission of unbelievably high stakes, and had it gone wrong, it would have changed the course of the war, because Spain would have entered the war on the German side, and we could well have lost the war. Of course, it had a major impact on the U-boat fleets, the German U-boat fleet’s ability to maintain their operations in the North Atlantic, which was absolutely key to Britain’s fortunes at the time. So, it was high stakes, high reward if you pulled it off.”

And what aspects of the story did director Guy Ritchie capture best?

“The spirit of those involved,” Lewis said. “That’s what they’ve got bang-on. I’m really pleased about that. Because these were exceptional individuals, the men and the women involved. They were risking all the horrendous things that would have happened to them if captured. And their chutzpah, their bravery, their courage, and their piratical nature. Pirates for the right cause, all of that comes through …”

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Henry Cavill in MoUW. Photo: Dan Smith for Lionsgate

The author stresses that MoUW‘s wry sense of humor is also very much part of the reality. “That humor was absolutely crucial to these kinds of missions,” he said. “If you’re carrying out deniable operations deep behind enemy lines, facing the very, very worst imaginable, you have to keep the humor going. Because that’s what undermines your esprit de corps and your morale. All those things they’ve captured really, really admirably. And I think they’ve been true to the nature of the operators as they were on the ground. That’s absolutely key.”

A Piratical Band of Brothers


Babs Olusanmokun in MoUW. Photo: Dan Smith for Lionsgate


Overall, the film is entertaining with a comedic machismo flair. As Damien Lewis put it, it has “spirit”. The cast members are dynamic with an abundance of on-screen chemistry. And while the dialogue may be pithy and delivered with British humor and charm, the focus stays on the operatives’ mission, subterfuge, and action sequences, where the lethal proficiencies of these rogue operators are put on full display.

These sequences were mostly well done, the violence largely becoming its own character, with its own place in the story. Some might say the piratical band of brothers is portrayed as too cavalier in its murderous rampages. But is it really far-fetched to believe that rogue killer operatives, trained to do the most ungentlemanly acts of war, couldn’t perform their work with some degree of zeal?

“One of the fascinating things about them, which I found out from those [declassified] files, is that these guys had double-0 prefixes,” Lewis added, bringing up the most famous 00 of all. “Because you know, Bond is 007 ….The reason the SOE gave you a double 0 prefix, so your codename might be agent 0016 or 004. And the reason they did that was because a double-0 agent was licensed to kill. It’s absolutely true. That’s the reason you had a double-0 prefix, your license to do anything. And actually killing was just one of the things. So, they are absolutely the forerunners in the model for that James Bond character that we all know so well. And Gus March-Phillips who was the commander of the mission is somebody who people posited as being the model for Bond. I actually think Bond is a photofit of three or four individuals. But Gus March-Phillips was definitely one of them. And these guys are the real thing.”


The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare‘s ensemble cast features Henry Cavill (Man of Steel, Mission: Impossible – Fallout) as Gus March-Phillips, the charismatic commander whose notorious order-defying nature makes him unusually qualified to lead the band of renegade heroes.

Aiza González (Baby Driver) as Marjorie Stewart, the cunning, seductive, sultry pioneer of “honeypot” operatives equipped with a ruthless trigger finger and could out-shoot the best of them.

Alan Ritchson (Reacher, Fast X) as Anders Lassen, “the Danish Hammer” who gave up gutting game for gutting Nazis and made killing with a bow and arrow look pretty damn efficient.

The film also features Alex Pettyfer (In Time) as Geoffrey Appleyard, Hero Fiennes Tiffin (After series) as Henry Hayes, Babs Olusanmokun (Dune) as Richard Heron, Henrique Zaga (Beyond the Universe) as Captain Binea, Til Schweiger (Inglourious Basterds) as Heinrich Luhr, Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians) as Freddy Alvarez, Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) as Brigadier Gubbins “M”, Freddy Fox (The Great) as Ian Fleming, and Rory Kinnear (Quantum of Solace, Skyfall) as Winston Churchill.


Be the first to buy tickets for the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare HERE.


Author’s Bio:


Lis Malone is a media and marketing-communications professional from New York City with over twenty-five years in the industry. Her current focus is on the book publishing industry, where she works with talented bestselling and up-and-coming authors. As a lover of stories, Lis will be launching her own small press to bring books she’s passionate about to market. She currently resides in Charlotte, North Carolina where she’s traded in her MTA MetroCard for greenway trails and writes whenever she can find the time.


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