Program 34: Against The Law
Directed by Fergus O'Brien
England in the 1950s was a terrifying time and place to be homosexual. Gays were routinely arrested, imprisoned, and forced to endure torturous aversion therapies. Things came to a head when law enforcement targeted the country’s most prominent presumed homosexual, Lord Edward Montagu. When false molestation charges resulted in an acquittal, they stepped up their efforts by investigating his associates. This led to Montagu and his friend Peter Wildeblood, the film’s protagonist, being convicted of “Gross Indecency” and “Buggery with Other Male Persons.”
Against the Law tells the story of Peter Wildeblood and his journey from being a scared, closeted homosexual to being England’s first out gay activist. Through this lens, we see Wildeblood meet and fall in love with an RAF corporal who would eventually testify against him, then watch as Wildeblood stands tall in court while his love letters are read aloud to incriminate him. We learn along with Wildeblood about “chemical aversion therapy” – the act of injecting chemicals to make victims nauseated then forcing them to lie in their own vomit and excrement for 3 days. Eventually Wildeblood becomes the only admitted homosexual to testify before a parliamentary committee, though we cringe when he advocates only for “the discreet homosexual,” putting more effeminate gays in the same group as pedophiles.
The film frequently cuts away from its primary narrative to tell first-hand accounts from men who experienced life as a homosexual in England during the 1950s. Among others, this includes those who were arrested, others who lived painfully lonely lives, a man who lives in guilt after turning in his lover, and both a victim and perpetrator of chemical aversion therapy. These testimonials, combined with Wildeblood’s gripping story, make Against The Law an essential lesson in queer history.
— Stephen K Weisenreder
AWARDS & ACCOLADES
- OPENING NIGHT FILM – BFI Flare London LGBT Film Festival
- OFFICIAL SELECTION – Frameline SF Int’l LGBTQ Film Festival
- OFFICIAL SELECTION – Reeling Chicago LGBTQ+ Int’l Film Festival