Against the Law

Director: Fergus O’Brien
2017 | UK | 84m
GENRE: Aging/Elders | Biography/History | Discrimination | Documentary | Gay | Human Rights | Mental Health
SECTION: World Cinema
Expected Guests: Director, Fergus O’Brien

A powerful mix of biopic and documentary, Against the Law uses the story of gay rights activist Peter Wildeblood to explore the nearly forgotten world of gay men who lived in England in the 1950s, an era when homosexuality was illegal and gay men were aggressively persecuted and prosecuted. Actor Daniel Mays (The Adventures of Tintin, The Bank Job) plays Wildeblood, a shy journalist whose lover, under pressure from the police, denounces him as a homosexual. Wildeblood is caught up in what became an infamous 1954 trial that also targeted his well-known friends Lord Edward Montagu and Michael Pitt-Rivers. The resulting ordeal still seems shocking to contemporary audiences. But rather than silence Wildeblood, the experience radicalized him, and he went on to document it in a candid memoir that fueled a public discussion about homosexuality, contributing to its eventual decriminalization (in 1967) in the U.K. It’s a moving story (though some of Wildeblood’s notions about the “types” of gay men have not, thankfully, stood the test of time). The film is a product of the venerable BBC factual drama division, so the period details and performances are first-rate. But the real stars of this film are several gay men — now in their 70s, 80s, and 90s — who lived in England during that time. Interviews with these men appear throughout the drama, adding a deeply affecting personal touch to the film.

— PETER L. STEIN

CO-PRESENTED BY
The GLBT Historical Society / Mostly British Film Society

  • Premiere Status: US