Ungentle ★★★★★- Edinburgh International Film Festival

3 mins read

In the mid-20th century, being a gay man and a spy were two counterintuitive concepts. Ungentle’s unnamed protagonist (Ben Whishaw) narrates the highs and lows of a story from a man leading this surreptitious double life. Shot on 16mm and condensed to 37 minutes, this film is an artistic whirlwind that doesn’t allow a moment for breath- it’s exhilarating.


“Packing a dizzying amount of wit, insight and poignancy into its 37 minutes, Ungentle is one of the strongest UK films of any length we’ve seen this year, we are proud to share it with EIFF audiences in a solo cinema presentation.”

Kate Taylor, Programme Director

Ungentle is an essay, read aloud by Ben Whishaw. He relays stories that are sensitive, erotic, silly and engrossing. His clear-cut aristocratic voice is at home in the 1930s to post war upper-class context. Despite being affiliated largely with Paddington Bear, Whishaw’s voice is wonderfully charismatically sensual, intellectual and a perfect fit for the role.

Writer Huw Lemmey (Bad Gays) joined forces with Onyeka Igwe (No Archive Can Restore You) to direct this artistic short film. Their collaborative sense of style and humour packs a punch to the viewer. They’ve created a film that demands attention from the audience and deserves it; there’s not a single moment you can rip your eyes away from it.

When opening Ungentle, Lemmey described the film as being “about desire, about loyalty… about complicity, [and] about treachery.” Each word was exactly perfect.

Visually, the film is a myriad of settings; tranquil shots, wind blowing, birds tweeting. On the narrator’s father’s rural estate there is; cars honking and footsteps plodding when cruising in St James Park: blackened screens and distant explosions during the Blitz- all grounds in the characters life are covered.

The shots visually encased only the setting, but in this they encased the never seen character in a way that was wonderfully artistic and captivating.

Igwe’s editing was phenomenal, mimicking the honesty of Lemmey’s script and the story with exceptional artistry.

Based partially on the case of journalist Wildeblood, one of the first public figures to declare their sexuality in court. The case prompted reform of laws on homosexuality, and actually led to its decriminalisation in 1965.

In the Q&A after, Lemmey described how the inspiration for the film came from queer history, saying traditionally “gay history has been a charge sheet… the stories are hinted at in between.”

His unnamed narrator is based on these never told, but always alluded to people in society who never got any positive recognition. However, this film deserves all the positive recognition that can be garnered.

EIFF runs from 18 – 23 August. For more of Brig’s coverage visit our website here.

Featured image credit: Ungentle (2022)

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Journalism and English Studies student with an interest in film & tv, music, and politics.
Live on Air3 Thursday 1-2.30
Twitter: @AlexPaterson01

Journalism and English Studies student with an interest in film & tv, music, and politics.
Live on Air3 Thursday 1-2.30
Twitter: @AlexPaterson01

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