A new BBC2 factual drama starring Line Of Duty’s Daniel Mays and Sherlock’s Mark Gatiss will tell the real-life story of the explosive Montagu case – and the trial of four young men who were jailed for “homosexual offences” in the 1950s.
The controversial court case led to a huge outcry as public opinion shifted, with many accusing the authorities of a witchhunt.
Mays will play Peter Wildeblood, a thoughtful and private gay journalist (specifically, the diplomatic correspondent of the Daily Mail) in the 1950s. Along with his lover Eddie McNally (Richard Gadd), he had been partying with friends Lord Montagu (Mark Edel-Hunt) and Michael Pitt-Rivers. All four were later arrested.
But under pressure from the authorities, McNally turned “Queen’s evidence” against his lover in exchange for a reduction to his own punishment. The social landscape was very different: this was more than ten years before homosexual acts were decriminalised in 1967, and the men were sent to jail in disgrace.
Lord Montagu, Michael Pitt-Rivers and Peter Wildeblood
Wildeblood’s career was in tatters, and his private life was painfully exposed as his love letters were read out in court. He began his sentence a broken man, but after a year in Wormwood Scrubs he left determined to challenge the draconian laws.
Gatiss will play Wildeblood’s prison psychiatrist, Doctor Landers. Also joining the cast is Ripper Street’s Charlie Creed-Miles as Superintendent Jones.
Mays comments: “I’m incredibly proud to be part of a drama that tells such an important real-life story. Peter Wildeblood is a fascinating, complex, yet flawed character from a time when being a gay man in Britain was incredibly difficult.”
BBC2’s channel editor Patrick Holland adds: “50 years ago, it was a crime to be a gay man in the UK. Against The Law is a stunning piece that melds drama and documentary testimony to tell the story of one man, and his wider generation, as they struggled to make society accept their sexuality as non-criminal.”
The trial itself has previously been dramatised, in a Channel 4 reconstruction in 2007 titled A Very British Sex Scandal.
Against The Law will be broadcast on BBC2 later this year