The League of Gentlemen (1960)

Directed by Basil Dearden

Involuntarily-retired Colonel Hyde recruits seven other dissatisfied ex-servicemen for a special project. Each of the men has a skeleton in the cupboard, is short of money, and is a service-trained expert in his field. The job is a bank robbery, and military discipline and planning are imposed by Hyde and second-in-command Race on the team, although civilian irritations do start getting in the way.

It's interesting to note that these so-called 'gentlemen' are fueled as much by spite and misogyny (and possibly self-hatred) than simply pure greed or the sense their ego has been wounded by being ejected by the Army — observe the spiteful "the bitch" aimed at his wife uttered by our main hero. The film is, of course, yet another fantasy of Britain's continued importance in an Americanised world. But apart from a few moments against the grain, it never reaches the cruelty and insecurity displayed in the James Bond franchise. Indeed, The League of Gentlemen is both more subtle and obvious than meets the eye: the insufferable Bunny at the end of the film is far too overpitched and played out so that the ironic juxtaposition fails to land as comedy, but not only do the countless references to homosexuality and homophobia still make for striking viewing in 2023, note that the film indirectly indicates that Hyde is estranged from his children via a 'rosebud'-esque rocking horse in his basement.


A lively crime escapade with melancholy undertones, this examination of the instability of a generation of British men may have appealed to Dearden and Relph’s social sensibility: the film takes place more than ten years after the end of World War II, but its main characters are veterans who have not been able to fully reintegrate into civilian life.

Michael Koresky (Criterion)