A telephone chat with "Lord Montagu" writer/director/producer Luke Korem regarding this artistically and commercially successful first stab at a feature film was perfect timing in the midst of Pride Month. This film, which recently hit numerous VOD platforms, about the aristocrat whose arrest in the '50s paved the way for recognition of gay rights under British law is a perfect example of the spirit of Pride.
Releasing this documentary roughly 60 years after Montagu became a guest of his friend the Queen for engaging in homosexual acts provides an especially important reminder of the past in our more enlightened times. A scene of a Springfield Pride parade in a "The Simpsons" episode from a few years ago is an especially terrific reminder of the progress since the era of "the Montagu Case." The response of Lisa to the chant of "we're here; we're queer; get used to it" is that the parade happens every year and that people are used to it.
In further homage to "The Simpsons," this review is taking a half-assed approach to providing a synopsis of "Montagu." The following well-written summary is directly from the production notes for the film.
"As the youngest member in parliament and sole heir to his family's 7,000-acre English estate, Lord Edward Montagu's life was rich and privileged. However, in 1954, Edward Montagu, then aged 25, became England's most infamous aristocrat when he was arrested for homosexual offenses and became the focus of a landmark trial known as “The Montagu Case.” His guilty verdict sent off shock waves and became the catalyst to overturn a centuries old law, butMontagu’s once pristine reputation and career were all but ruined. After serving a year in prison, Montagu rose back into the spotlight when he boldly transformed his private estate and family home into a public tourist attraction.
He created spectacles at his home, most notably Britain's first
motor museum, and thus invented a new form of tourism known as “the stately home business.” His showmanship and success inspired a new breed of aristocrats to open their
doors and transformed Edward Montagu into a prominent and esteemed national figure."
The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the "Montagu" trailer nicely illustrates the care and artistry that Korem devotes to telling the above not-oft-told tale.
Basis for Witch Hunt
Korem shared that the Cold War era defections of homosexual spies Guy Burgess and Donald MacLean to the Soviet Union in the period before the arrest of Montgu for "conspiracy to incite certain male persons to commit serious offences with male persons" played a role in the campaign against Montagu that led to his initial public shame and later status as a pioneer in the fight for gay rights in the U.K. Korem explained that the aforementioned defections "led to fear that those who were gay were also spies."
Korem added that Montagu being an aristocrat made his already scandalous circumstances an "absolutely explosive sex story" along the lines of a "Downton Abbey" plot.
Rosa Parks of Gay Rights
Statements by Korem that Montagu did not set out to be a symbol of the early gay rights movement and that "the [Montagu] case found him" prompted asking if Monatgu could be considered the Rosa Parks of the gay rights cause in that the act that brought Parks fame merely reflected a need to get off her feet. Korem replied that he had not thought about that aspect of the Monatgu story but that he saw the correlation.
Koren added that Montagu was "a great part of gay history and always will be" and that he never had the vindictive attitude that "people shouldn't have done this to me."
Another correlation existed regarding the involvement of Texas-native Korem with the Montagu story. A nephew of Montagu who was familiar with the work of Korem on advertising campaigns asked that he produce a short film for the Montagu family. That led to the current feature-length production that had Korem spending extensive time at the Montagu ancestral home and interviewing Lord Montagu and scores of other notable British individuals.
A purposefully silly question regarding whether Korem encountered any ghosts while staying in the centuries-old Montagu home prompted a light-hearted negative reply. He did share that the residence had "trap doors, secret tunnels" and several similar features that Korem described as everything that you would expect to find in a castle.
Korem went on to discuss how the early morning raid (which had common elements with the fact pattern involving observed sodomy in an Atlanta bedroom in the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court case Bowers v. Hardwick,) that led to the arrests of both Montagu and Daily Mail journalist Peter Wildeblood ruined the career of the latter.
The conversation regarding Wildeblood then focused on that man being who commenced the campaign that resulted in the aforementioned change in British law.
The only negative aspect regarding the discussion of this topic was that Korem stated that he had not had a chance to discuss the recent Irish vote in favor of marriage equality with Montagu. The perspective of a bloke who helped trigger the events that led to that win would have been fascinating.
The conversation with Korem ended with discussing his latest film "Dealt," which is a documentary on blind magician Richard Turner. The tone of Korem's voice in stating "I'm really excited about this next film" and that "it's an amazing story" conveys the sincerity of those statements.
Korem nicely reminds us there still are filmmakers out there with an non-sensational approach to telling important stories about notable events and persons of our past. He transforms Montagu from a man about whom most of us never heard into someone with whom one wants to fly over to join for tea before the opportunity to do so fades away.