a docu-drama by Patrick Reams
2007 | 85 mins | UK
›› A Very British Sex Scandal
a reserved depiction of the trial of Peter Wildeblood
A Very British Sex Scandal by Patrick Reams Seemingly forgotten by some, but thankfully remembered by others, Channel Four television in a week long celebration of shows marking the 40th anniversary of the decriminalisation (in part) of homosexual acts in England and Wales, through the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, rightly took us back to one of the most significant events in the development of gay rights in the UK; namely the trial in 1954 of Peter Wildeblood, Lord Edward Montagu and his second cousin Michael Pitt-Rivers.

For at a time in which homosexual persecutions were high on the police agenda and here think witch hunts, it wasn't long before the relationship between one Edward McNally and Daily Mail journalist and newly appointed diplomatic correspondent Peter Wildeblood, and in turn his friendship with Lord Montagu of Beaulieu provided the authorities with what they sought after the most. In short, a headline trial that in their eyes would not only put an end to such sexual impropriety, but signal that occurrences of such between the upper and lower classes would not be tolerated. Only here their plan backfired big time. For whilst Lord Montagu, Wildeblood and Pitt-Rivers would be convicted of having conspired to incite McNally and his friend Johnny Reynolds to commit indecent acts during a beach holiday spent as guests on Lord Montagu's estate in the summer of 1952, the authorities had in pursuing their homosexual vendetta, grossly underestimated the views held by an increasingly sympathetic public.

A Very British Sex Scandal by Patrick Reams Appalled by the severity of the sentence and the fact that such had been secured by two men pressured into turning Queen's evidence to save their own skin, it became clear that the law that made being a practicing homosexual in Great Britain a criminal offence, was out of step with public opinion. Something had to give and that was the law itself. That this trial, the most overtly homosexual one since that of Oscar Wilde, set in motion a sequence of events that would culminate in the campaign for sexual equality, is not in doubt. What is questionable however, is the title of the docu-drama itself, given this marks an ever so reserved depiction of sex in the '50s.

Thankfully whilst sexual frankness is in short supply, such is more than aptly compensated for by a series of interviews with veteran gay rights campaigners, including Michael Brown and Allan Horsfall, who vividly recall what it was like to live through an era in which those of homosexual inclination were in constant fear of assault, entrapment, blackmail, let alone the reality of a lengthy term of imprisonment. Of note however are the personal recollections from Lord Montagu, who whilst having always denied the charges for which he was convicted, went on to describe Wildeblood as a rather amusing person, one who he greatly admired in having "spoken the truth." Yet in being out and proud in a court of law at this time, Wildeblood in stating that he was a homosexual, did so in the certain knowledge that any chance of a not guilty verdict had just left the building.

That it was joined by a public backlash, forced the Government of the day to look into matters relating to Consenting Adults in the form of the Wolfenden Committee, one that Wildeblood himself would later stand before in order to raise awareness of the plight of those men whose very sexuality was and to quote the title of his ground-breaking book - against the law. And yet whilst there is no denying the quality of this production, or indeed the sheer commitment to it by writer and director Patrick Reams, at the end of the day you cannot help but feel that Peter Wildeblood deserved a far more sexier sex scandal, than that as dramatised here.

Gay Visibility - overt. 
Nudity - strictly from the waist up. 
Overall - file under ... 3+ stars. 
a Channel 4 drama premiere: Saturday.21.July.2007
starring: Martin Hutson, Sam Heughan, Orlando Wells, Karl Davies, Darrell D'Silva, Roger Ashton-Griffiths,
Kevin Colson, Richard Lintern, Nicholas Le Prevost, Barny Clevely, Harriet Eastcott,
Eric Carte, Susan Jameson, Roger Barclay, William Chubb, Joe Murray
Copyright 2010 David Hall - www.gaycelluloid.com.
archive reference #136
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