Huw Lemmey in collaboration with Onyeka Igwe

Ungentle is a major new film commission based on a new script by Huw Lemmey and co–directed with Onyeka Igwe, exploring the complicated relationship between British espionage and male homosexuality.

Based on extensive historical research, the film is narrated by an imagined, enigmatic auteur whose fraught position as both a spy and gay man in the mid–20th century is troubled by sex, secrecy, politics and imperialism. The film edges at a fluidity and an atmosphere of unknowability, where the protagonist directs the scenes of the film from outside of the camera lens. Lemmey and Igwe employ the expansive potential of artist film, using the fictional and factual to challenge the nature of authorship and agency.

Filmed in 16mm, Ungentle is a visual journey through the history-laden British landscapes where these infamous stories emerged. It moves from St James’s Park, a historical cruising ground at the centre of British power, to Beaulieu, a historic country house in Hampshire that served as a Special Operations Executive training school, and its surrounding countryside.

Ungentle draws on the life stories of a number of important homosexual figures in British espionage, including famous Cambridge Five “traitors” Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess, and loyal operatives Denis Rake, Noël Coward and Hardy Amies. The film also makes reference to the literary and visual languages of British spy movies and the literature of John Le Carré, while also seeking to trouble the styles and historical assumptions that have developed from them.

What emerges is a portrait of the shared experience of subterfuge, community and secrecy between homosexuals and spies, an unlikely common ground. Ungentle is a thoughtful reflection on the psychogeography of spy histories from multiplicitous perspectives, exploring the tensions between loyalty and lust, authentic selves and adopted beliefs, status and desire.

This is Lemmey’s first institutional exhibition, and the artists’ first collaboration.

Ungentle is commissioned and produced by Studio Voltaire. Supported The Studio Voltaire Council and The Ampersand Foundation, with additional support from Cockayne – The London Community Foundation and The Elephant Trust.

Ungentle runs continuously on a 36-minute loop.  Alternate screenings are subtitled.


Approximate daily running times:

10:14 [with subtitles]
11:28 [with subtitles]
12:41 [with subtitles]
13:55 [with subtitles]
15:08 [with subtitles]
16:22 [with subtitles]


About Huw Lemmey

Huw Lemmey is an artist and writer. He has published the novels Unknown Language (2020) Red Tory: My Corbyn Chemsex Hell (2019) and Chubz: The Demonization of My Working Arse (2015). With Ben Miller, he hosts the highly-successful podcast Bad Gays, ‘about evil and complicated queers in history’. Their book, Bad Gays: A Homosexual History was recently published by Verso Books. Lemmey writes on digital culture, sexuality and politics for publications including Architectural Review, Icon, Art Monthly, L’Uomo Vogue, The Guardian and The White Review, among others. This new film work has developed directly from a walking tour by Lemmey, commissioned by Studio Voltaire in 2018 as part of the offsite project Rainbow Aphorisms. 

About Onyeka Igwe

Onyeka Igwe lives and works in London, England. Her work has been presented in solo exhibitions and screenings at LUX, London, England (2021); Mercer Union, Toronto, Canada (2021); and Jerwood Arts, London, England (2019). Her video works have been screened at institutions and festivals including KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, Germany (2020); London Film Festival, London, England (2020 and 2015); Rotterdam International Film Festival, Rotterdam, Netherlands (2020, 2019, and 2018); CC Matienzo, Buenos Aires, Argentina (2019); Smithsonian African American Film Festival, Washington, DC (2018); The Showroom, London, England, (2018); Institute of Contemporary Arts: ICA, London, England (2017); and Edinburgh Artist Moving Image, Edinburgh, Scotland (2016). She has been featured in major international presentations including the Dhaka Art Summit, Dhaka, Bangladesh (2020); and Berlin Biennale, Germany (2018). She was awarded the 2020 Arts Foundation Futures Award for Experimental Short Film and the 2019 Berwick New Cinema Award.

Film Credits

A Film by Onyeka Igwe and Huw Lemmey
Narrated by Ben Whishaw

Writer Huw Lemmey
Editor Onyeka Igwe
Producer Pinky Ghundale

Director of Photography Morgan K Spencer
Assistant Camera Alex Lobsang
Steadicam Operator James Thomas
Driver Taz Sanusi

Equipment hire McX Films
Lighting hire Pixipixel
Film Stock Kodak
Film Laboratory Cinelab Film & Digital
Colourist Joshua Callis-Smith
Titles Artwork Alasdair MacKay
Sound Design & Mix Stefan Smith

Filmed at Locations
Beaulieu Estate
Dolphin Square, London
Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge
Museum of Cambridge
Palace Theatre, London
St. Ermin’s Hotel, London
St James’s Park, London

Butterworth: A Shropshire Lad: Is My Team Ploughing?
Performed by Bryn Terfel, Malcom Martineau
Courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon
Under licence from Universal Music Operations Limited

Extract from
A. E. Housman, “Is My Team Ploughing”. A Shropshire Lad, 1896.

Laura Brown
Paul Browne
Christine Cowling-Jones
Amy Cross
Johnny Freitas
Rachael Goldstraw
Yiannis Koutsakos
Stuart Leckie
Gemma Mellish
Tim Fordham Moss
Komal Patel
Habda Rashid
Holly Roberts
Alex Smaridge
Becci Snape
Eliza Spindel
Tom Walsh
Jane Yapp
The Royal Parks

The artists would additionally like to thank
MJ Harding
Jennifer Jones
Peter Lemmey
Tamar Shlaim
Virgil Benjamin Goodman Taylor

Image credit

Photo: Morgan K. Spencer

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