Airing on BBC Two as part of the Gay Britannia season earlier this year commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, Against The Law is a powerful and moving docu-drama about the Montague Trial, one of the most controversial court cases of the 1950s. It follows the romantic relationship between Fleet Street journalist Peter Wildeblood (Daniel Mays) and serviceman Eddy McNally (Richard Gadd), a passionate love affair that would ultimately lead to public vilification and a prison sentence for Peter.
Against The Law is incredibly eye opening from the very beginning. In the opening title sequence, we see real newspaper headlines published during the 1950s branding homosexuality evil, amongst other things. In a generation where homosexuality is perfectly legal and accepted in Britain, it can be hard to believe such headlines were ever published, and many viewers may be unaware of just how badly homosexuality was portrayed in the media and seen by society.
When the two men’s love affair is exposed to the public, McNally testifies against Wildeblood in court to save his own skin, condemning Wildeblood to a year-long incarceration. It is here he is encouraged to undergo cruel and inhumane aversion therapy to alter his sexual orientation. Daniel Mays plays Wildeblood’s character excellently and is very believable as an ordinary, well-educated guy, desperate to express his true self but restricted by law and public opinion.
Mays’ strong performance allows the audience to connect with his character. As Wildeblood’s world begins to crumble around him, betrayed by the man he loves, by society and by the law itself, the audience truly feels for him and cares what happens to his character.
The feature long docu-drama features emotive interviews with real individuals who recall their own experiences during the 1950s. Hearing real stories from real men and their struggles with being homosexual during that time complements the drama unfolding alongside and really brings it to life. It makes for quite a harrowing watch however, as they recall heart breaking tales of forbidden love and loneliness. The combination of dramatisation and real interviews makes Against The Law unique and a must see to watch.
During his prison sentence, Peter Wildeblood begins to challenge people’s perception of homosexuality and the law making it illegal, believing that it is not he who is in the wrong, but the law that is wrong. This realisation ignites a strong determination to change the law and make homosexuality legal, simply so that he can live in peace. His release coincides with the setting up of the Wolfenden Society, set up to consider amending existing laws on homosexuality.
Wildeblood was the only openly gay man to testify before the Wolfenden committee. His testimony ultimately paved the way for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain. Sadly, it still took another nine years for this to happen.
Against The Law brings to the surface a part of British history that most are unaware of, and a generation of others who have tried to cover it up. Despite having what may seem like a very sad and emotional narrative, the docu-drama will leave you feeling positive and inspired by Wildeblood’s determination to challenge draconian laws and by the resilience of the gay men featured in the interviews. It will make you appreciate the times we live in and how far Britain has come since those dark days in the 1950s.
Against The Law is a powerful and moving depiction of true events, with great acting and a fantastic soundtrack.
Against The Law is available on DVD now.
Dir: Fergus O’Brien
Prd: Scott Bassett
Scr: Brian Fillis, Peter Wildeblood
Starring: Daniel Mays, Richard Gadd, Charlie Creed-Miles
Music By: Roger Goula Sarda