Fergus O'Brien (director)
Network On Air (studio)
11 September 2017 (released)
07 October 2017
This film, about the true case of 1950’s journo and gay rights campaigner Peter Wildeblood, was originally shown on BBC 2 earlier this year as part of the Gay Britannia season if you were not already aware of it.
The case, one is led to believe, caused an absolute sensation in 1953 and journalist and protagonist of the story Peter Wildeblood (here played by current flavour of the month Daniel Mays) was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment after being found guilty of 'gross sexual demeanors'. Not only does this seem utterly absurd by nowadays standards and virtually beyond belief but even for the 1950’s the ‘witch hunt’ of homosexual men seemed more like it belonged to 1753! It is even more astonishing to think that it was still illegal to be a gay man in this country in 1966! The sheer hypocrisy level involved here is bordering on some kind of inner latent madness.
To return to the film at hand, Wildeblood picks up a young R.A.F. Corporal named Eddie McNally (Richard Gadd) outside a pub one night and takes him home; both men are instantly attracted to each other and inevitably buggery takes place (this was never against the law for heteros who apparently liked a 'tighter fit' with partners). Soon love blossoms despite the fact that Wildeblood is a highly educated man with a degree from Oxford and McNally is 'uneducated' but not unintelligent. In court it would be seen, as in the case of the great Oscar, the usual scenario of an upper class man screwing a bit of rough. But the upper classes are still doing this, in more ways than one, and will continue to do so unless Joe Soap brightens up.
During the humiliating court case Wildeblood claimed that he was 'lonely' and indeed this appears to be the case. Now we know that this man, with an Oxford education, cannot possibly be an idiot but he is hopelessly naïve: after Corp. McNally goes back from his leave Wildeblood continues to send him countless incriminating love letters (“Dearest darling…” etc etc and so forth) and sends these to an R.A.F base! The inevitable happens and Wildebloode finds himself in the dock, without a leg to stand on, with his two upper class friends Lord Montagu (Mark Edel-Hunt) and Michael Pitt-Rivers (Josh Collins), all of whom rather stupidly protest their innocence. Wildeblood has, it would appear, overlooked his letters which were read out in court. One wonders if our protagonist had been completely honest and told the truth (still bearing in mind that what went on between consenting adults was against the law) and said “Yes, I am a homosexual man and I am in love with Corporal McNally and I am not ashamed of it…” whether the sentence would have been slightly milder. After his prison release Wildeblood did quite well testifying eruditely at the Wolfenden report (the Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution after Lord Wolfenden, the chairman of the committee). One of elderly gay men interviewed in segments between the film's action admits to having a gay affair at the time with Wolfenden's cousin (you’ll see then about the 'gross' hypocrisy) and becoming a top TV producer.
The film, based on Wildeblood's own account of what occurred, is a tad on the grim side but what can we expect. The rather average looking, mouth continually open Daniel Mays tries hard in the role of Wildeblood but quite frankly is completely miscast. One does not get the impression that this man has ever been near the colleges of Oxford- not even on a day trip! Richard Gadd may have been more convincing and vice-versa but bears no physical resemblance to Wildebloode whatsoever. Busy bee Mark Gatiss, despite prominent billing, appears very briefly as prison psychiatrist Dr. Landers - suggesting controversial electro shock therapy and other ‘delights’ as a cure for homosexuality, some joke this though the ‘victims’ in question obviously aren’t laughing.
Would viewing this film do anything to 'correct' the homophobic attitudes still rampant in our society and would this film have ultimately an enlightening effect? I very much doubt it (nice if this were not so), well, certainly not with the tabloids we have in circulation.