Against the Law

Sometimes you think you know a story, but it turns out you don’t, not really. Watching Against the Law, I realised how little I truly understood of the horrors and humiliations that gay people were forced to endure in the days when homosexuality was still illegal in Britain.

This was an era in which gay men were regularly derided, by press and Parliament, as ‘evil’, ‘a perversion’ and ‘a danger to society’, and when the simple act of sending a love letter could land you in prison, with your name and address printed in the papers.

Peter Wildeblood was – irony of ironies – a Daily Mail journalist who was jailed following the infamous 1954 ‘Montagu Trial’, and who later articulated the full horror of his experience in a vivid memoir, adapted here for the screen by Brian Fillis. ‘Fear is a terrible emotion,’ wrote Wildeblood, as the prison walls closed around him. ‘It’s like a black frost which blights and stunts all the other qualities of a man.’

His fear, pride and courage (he was the only openly gay man to testify to the Wolfenden Committee, which eventually led to the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967) were beautifully sold in the film by the excellent Daniel Mays, whose hangdog face conveys suffering like no other actor I know.

Sent to the prison doctor (Mark Gatiss at his most brilliantly appalling), Wildeblood was offered the choice of electrical aversion therapy or chemical poisoning, the latter of which involved lying in your own vomit for days in order to really teach you a lesson. (Remember we’re talking here about the 1950s, not the 1590s.)

The drama – the sexual content of which must have given Wildeblood’s former employers a fit of the vapours – was interspersed with talking head testimonies from men who had actually lived through this trauma. One twinkily admitted to an affair with Lord Wolfenden’s son, while another told how he had buried his late partner with one of those early, illicit love letters alongside him in his coffin. From ‘dangerous perversion’ to love stronger than death. Maybe there’s hope for us all after all.

TV extra:


My Friend Jane

Fandom isn’t just for Trekkies and Whovians, you know. In this sweet film, we met the Janeites – fangirls and boys so lost in Austen they spend their days in bonnets and breeches, organising society balls and penning some of the 30-60 new JAF (Jane Austen fiction) novels published every month. Sophie, who’s ‘one and twenty years old’, said she’d struggled to fit in at school, but has found happiness – and a tribe – by embracing her inner Regency debutante. More power to the lot of ’em, I say.


I Know Who You Are

What’s the Spanish equivalent of Scandi noir? Iberian noir? Can something even be noir when the sun’s always blazing? Anyway, this twisty thriller – about an amnesiac Barcelona lawyer accused of kidnapping and murdering his niece – is pretty gripping, if a bit daft. You’ll need to concentrate, though, as it moves fast, and there are the twin distractions of subtitles and the fact everyone keeps taking their clothes off every five minutes. It’s the heat, I expect.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, July 27, 2017

(c) Waitrose Weekend