›› A Very British Sex Scandal ‹‹

a film by Patrick Reams.

2007 | 85 mins | UK.

a reserved depiction of the trial of Peter Wildeblood.

Dave says:

In a week long celebration of shows to mark the 40th anniversary of the decriminalisation (in part) of homosexual acts in England and Wales, through the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, Channel Four television rightly took us back to one of the most significant events in the development of gay rights in the UK; namely the noted trial of Peter Wildeblood, Lord Edward Montagu and his second cousin Michael Pitt-Rivers in 1954.

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 (Sam Heughan) and Daily Mail journalist and newly appointed diplomatic correspondent Peter Wildeblood (Martin Hutson) and in turn his friendship with Lord Montagu of Beaulieu (Orlando Wells) 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, Pitt-Rivers and Wildeblood would be convicted of having conspired to incite McNally and his friend Johnny Reynolds (Karl Davies) to commit so-called 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.

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.

Complete with an insightful commentary voiced by Steven Mackintosh, what makes this work all the more poignant are the moving words from a series of 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 'n' 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. Namely the title of the BBC2 drama that would largely document the same story as that told here; albeit ten years later.

›› revised: Tuesday, 17th August, 2021.

Gay Visibility - overt. 
Nudity - from the waist up. 
Overall - file under ... 3+ stars. 

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