An Ungentlemanly Act Bob Peck Ian Richardson (Picture: BritBox UK and ITV Content Delivery).
An Ungentlemanly Act actors Bob Peck and Ian Richardson (Picture: BritBox UK and ITV Content Delivery).

When the Falklands' governor refused to shake hands with invading Argentine

Defining moment in Falklands War told in remastered film ‘An Ungentlemanly Act’

An Ungentlemanly Act Bob Peck Ian Richardson (Picture: BritBox UK and ITV Content Delivery).
An Ungentlemanly Act actors Bob Peck and Ian Richardson (Picture: BritBox UK and ITV Content Delivery).

It was one of the defining moments of the Falklands war which made the then Falkland Islands’ Governor Sir Rex Hunt a household name.

Sir Rex, remembered following his death in 2012 for his courage and dignity during the 1982 conflict, displayed a final act of defiance after he was forced to surrender – by refusing to shake the hand of Argentinian commander General Oswald Garcia.

Now the writer and director of the film 'An Ungentlemanly Act' - a title inspired by Sir Rex and his actions during that moment - has told of his excitement after the film was restored and remastered for streaming in HD ahead of the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War in April 2022. 

Originally released in 1992 to mark 10 years since the end of the Falklands War, the gripping film, written and directed by Stuart Urban, is now being streamed on Britbox in 4K and depicts the start of the brutal conflict. 

Based on contemporary accounts by those who were there in April 1982, the two-hour film follows a handful of Royal Marines for 36 hours as they valiantly try to defend the island from the invading Argentina force. 

The islanders' back gardens had become the front line and the Royal Marines were defending Government House from the invading force. 

Urban filmed 'An Ungentlemanly Act' at Ealing Studios but also thousands of miles away on the Falkland Islands. Speaking of his time filming in the South Atlantic to Hal Stewart, BFBS the Forces Station broadcaster, Urban said: 

"It was wonderful to be in the South Atlantic, in the Falklands and have a lot of cooperation from people there, such as Governor Fullerton, the Falkland Islands Defence Force - people who were helping us in big ways." 

Video: BritBox UK and ITV Content Delivery

To ensure as much accuracy as possible, the filmmaker met with anyone who was there at the time, including Royal Marines, those on the opposing side of the conflict and Sir Rex, who had been the governor and commander-in-chief of the Falkland Islands at the time of the Argentinian invasion.

The British diplomat made headlines around the world when he refused to shake the hand of the Argentine Commanding General early on in the conflict, which prompted the following response, as reported in The Washington Post at the time, and which became the inspiration for the name of Urban's film: 

"I think it’s ungentlemanly not to shake hands." 

To which Sir Rex replied: 

"I think it’s very uncivilized to invade British territory. You are here illegally." 

Listen: Stuart Urban speaks to BFBS the Forces Station broadcaster Hal Stewart

At one stage, the film portrays the real terrifying moment armed Argentine forces stormed the local radio station and demanded presenter Patrick Watts play instructions for the islanders and the Argentinian national anthem. 

The film shows Watts adamantly refusing to do as they demanded. In the years since the Falklands War, the radio broadcaster has spoken of how he told the Argentinian soldiers that he could not broadcast while guns were being pointed at his back, that they were being too loud and that he did not allow people to smoke in his studio. According to Watts, the men immediately stopped smoking and became quiet.

Video: BritBox UK and ITV Content Delivery

Starring actors Ian Richardson and Rosemary Leach, as Governor Rex Hunt and his wife Lady Mavis Hunt, plus Jurassic Park actor Bob Peck, the film was Urban's first feature-length project for the BBC.

He was awarded a BAFTA for Best Single Drama. His other work includes 'Against The War', 'Deadly Voyage', 'The Secret' and 'May I Kill You?'. 

Urban managed to get himself in the film twice – once saying a few lines as an Argentinian Commando because he speaks Spanish and secondly as a penguin.

When the young director decided that penguins did not have the acting skills required to film a scene on a beach in  which Royal Marines think they are being attacked only to discover their enemy are in fact several penguins, he stepped up to speed things along. He said: 

"They were lovely but smelly and they wouldn't perform. You couldn't get them just waddling in the long grass. 

"We needed one shot of them waddling but they just wouldn't waddle – they would flop on their bellies or they would go on the sand. 

"So, we were forced to have me in the long grass in a black puffer jacket, black baseball cap and wearing a scarf and I think we got away with it. 

"At least when it wasn't in high definition. Maybe people will realise now?" 

Can you spy Urban in the clip below?