BBC 2 recently aired a Gay Britannia season to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. The channel aired a slate of fantastic shows, one of which was factual drama Against the Law, which tells the story of Peter Wildeblood who was one of the first men to publicly admit his homosexuality. He was also instrumental in influencing the Wolfenden Report in 1957 that recommended decriminalising homosexuality in the UK.
Against the Law is part factual drama and part documentary. The drama tells the story of a young Wildeblood (Daniel Mays) who was a journalist for The Daily Mail in the 1950s. Wildeblood met RAF corporal Eddie McNally (Richard Gadd) with whom he began a sexual relationship, despite it being against the law at the time. Their relationship was soon exposed and Wildeblood put on trial alongside his friends Lord Montagu (Mark Edel-Hunt) and Michael Pitt-Rivers (Josh Collins).
The documentary aspect of the film features eyewitness accounts from gay men who went through a similar ordeal to Wildeblood and his friends. They tell stories of how they were treated and explain the shocking ‘treatments’ used on them in an attempt to ‘cure’ them of their ‘disease’. It’s a timely reminder of how far the gay rights movement has come and also of how lucky us modern gay men really are.
Daniel Mays’ performance as Wildeblood is sensational. He really gives his all to the role and gives a very well-balanced and considered performance. Mays ensures that Wildeblood always remains sympathetic whilst showing his strength and resilience. Also worthy of a mention is Richard Gadd as Eddie. He creates fantastic chemistry with Mays and the two are electric together on the screen.
The film strikes a real emotional chord, particularly with the eyewitness accounts. Some of the stories these men tell are simply horrifying and it’s hard to understand how what they went through was ever allowed to happen. I choked up several times, particularly when one man who was a nurse at the time broke down as he told of his shame at not doing anything to stop the barbaric treatments he saw with his own eyes.
Against the Law is a fantastic film. It’s not always an easy watch but it’s important to remember just how far society has come in the last 50 years. What these men went through is unthinkable in the Western world now but there are still many other parts of the world where gay men are punished and killed for their sexuality. With stunning performances and plenty of emotion, Against the Law is a must-see film.
Cast: Daniel Mays, Richard Gadd, Josh Collins, Charlie Creed Miles, Mark Gatiss Director: Fergus O’Brien Writers: Brian Fillis, Peter Wildeblood (Book) Certificate: 12 Duration: 83 mins Released By: Network Releasing Release Date: 11th September 2017