Lord Montagu (Variance Films, NR)

Lord-Montagu 75This film is adequate, but no more, and worth watching primarily if you are interested in the subject.





Lord-Montagu 500

Edward John Barrington Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 3rd Baron Montague of Beaulieu has had an interesting life. Born in 1926 to the kind of privilege most Americans can’t imagine, which included inheritance of his family’s estate, Beaulieu (pronounced “Bewley”) and the stately country home of Palace House, he became a key character in the fight for gay rights in England. He was also a conservative politician, a public figure who courted media attention, and among the first to develop a way to preserve his family’s estate and underline the importance of the country home and estate in English history and culture.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Downton Abbey, and to me Lord Montagu seems like he could have been the bisexual son that Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville’s character) never had. Like Crawley, Montagu believed that English country estates were not so much symbols of hereditary privilege as they were an essential part of the English way of life. As such, it was the responsibility of those who inherited those estates to preserve them, a task that became increasingly difficult after World War I and just about impossible after World War II, due to changes in the economy and the tax system.

Many English country homes were demolished when their owners could no longer afford to keep them, but Montagu had the idea that people would pay to visit a country estate, just as they would to visit a museum. He was right, and although this was a shocking idea at the time, at least to some members of the moneyed class, we are used to the idea since it has been adopted by many other stately homes (including Thomas Jefferson’s home of Monticello). Montagu further developed this income stream over the years, creating the National Motor Museum and offering many other activities and attractions to bring paying visitors to Beaulieu, from living history presentations to go-karting.

The most notorious event in Montagu’s life was certainly his arrest in 1952 for “conspiracy to incite certain male persons to commit serious offences with male persons” which is the long-winded way of saying homosexual acts. Montagu was convicted and served a year in prison, but the extensive publicity granted his case led to the creation of the Wolfenden Committee in 1957. This committee recommended the decriminalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults, a legal reform that was finally achieved in 1967.

So that’s the life of Lord Montagu. What about the film? Directed by Luke Korem, it’s a straightforward documentary that feels like it belongs on PBS, so it’s well-suited to watching on your television. There’s not much in the way of criticism in this film, for either its subject or the class system that produced him, perhaps because one of the producers is Ralph Montagu, son of the film’s subject and heir apparent to the title of Lord Montagu.

Lord Montagu also has the straightforward, didactic feel of an educational film. That’s not entirely a bad thing, particularly for Americans, most of whom are probably not familiar with this man’s story, but doesn’t make for a particularly creative film or an intriguing viewing experience. Korem basically presents information about Montagu in a straightforward manner, with lots of talking-head interviews and archival footage, and there’s also plenty of footage of Beaulieu to please fans of heritage television. In the end, this film is adequate, but no more, and worth watching primarily if you are interested in the subject.

After appearances at several festivals (including the 2013 St. Louis International Film Festival), Lord Montagu is available for streaming on iTunes and on demand from a number of cable providers in the United States and Canada. The trailer and other information about the film is available from its official web site. | Sarah Boslaugh

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