By Amelia Jacob, Film & TV Digital Editor
Towards the crux of The Letter Men (2021), a soldier is propped up against a trench wall as a letter addressed to him is passed across several men. Though the words of the letter move him, the soldier prepares to burn the paper regardless. Why? The message is from his male partner, and homosexuality is illegal or, at the very least, driven deep underground. The soldier must make a crucial decision between safety and sentimentality, in a scene that neatly encapsulates the emotion of Andy Vallentine’s latest release.
The Letter Men is the fleeting but impactful love story of Gilbert (Garrett Clayton) and Gordon (Matthew Postlethwaite), two men who fell in love at the dawn of the Second World War. Necessary biographical details set the scene for the audience and, in a brief eight-minute runtime, the short film spans the time from Gilbert and Gordon’s first meeting through to the midst of the war.
Despite the restrictions of time and budget, it is beautifully shot, creative with its scenery and has a sweeping violin score that draws the viewer into the romance Vallentine paints.
As Gilbert, Clayton is far more emotionally convincing than his softer-spoken counterpart, yet both actors sell the chemistry between them well, which is one of the film's greatest achievements. As more stories of LGBTQ+ relationships during the 20th century emerge in the media, The Letter Men makes an undeniably intimate contribution.
I had the pleasure of speaking to Andy Vallentine this week about The Letter Men, to ask him about his creative process and hopes for the short film’s future.
Amelia Jacob: ‘To start off with, would you please be able to briefly tell our readers how you initially came across Gilbert and Gordon’s love story?’
Andy Vallentine: ‘Yes [...] I think it was maybe five years ago, when I read a BBC article about a discovery of Gordon’s love letters, and I was like, I have to be the filmmaker to tell this story. I’ve always been fascinated and a bit of a history buff about World War Two, I really connected with my grandfather growing up who fought in the war. He never really shared anything about the war to any of his children, except he opened up to me, which is kind of what sparked my fascination. Being a queer film-maker, I was like: “Queer soldiers in World War Two?” – I want to be the person who tells this story, and so I read the article on the BBC and reached out to Mark [the curator of Oswestry Museum who discovered the love letters] [...] I was able to read a tonne of the letters, and won the rights to the story.’
AJ: ‘The story is immediately contextualised in this queer space, and queer joy more importantly. Was that important to you, to show this in a period space?’
AV: ‘Yes absolutely, it was very important to show queer love in this period space. [...] To create a film, to create a TV show, you need conflict. You need that challenge of what your characters are going to go through. We’ve seen that through queer media, whether it be the challenges of coming out, the challenges of being outed, or of keeping yourself closeted. Those are really important stories, but we’ve told these stories over and over again, and so I was excited to just explore this relationship that the two of them had, it was very crucial to show this queer joy, queer love.’
AJ: ‘One thing I noticed was the staging of the film – it's quite theatrical [...] what were your thoughts behind this?’
AV: ‘I think that’s me as a filmmaker, that’s my style, I’m a bit more over the top and want to see things big [...] the goal of any film-maker is to try to capture the audience and let them get lost in your story and within the world you create. It’s very difficult to do that with a period piece on a budget [...] so it took a long time to kind of find those locations [...] I wish more than anything we would have shot this in the UK, but we shot it in Los Angeles [...] I think we were pretty successful in finding those locations that really sold it, whether it was the tube station or the countryside house.’
AJ: ‘So, what are your next steps for The Letter Men?’
AV: ‘Yes, so right now we have qualified for the Academy Awards. We are kind of in the running, which is exciting. There's still a long way to go before that, but it's an exciting step.’
Andy Vallentine is currently in post-production for The Mattachine Family, produced by Zach Braff and starring Juan Pablo Di Pace, Nico Tortorella and Emily Hampshire. The film is co-written with Vallentine’s husband, Danny Vallentine, who also co-wrote The Letter Men.
Featured Image: Courtesy of Oren Soffer and IMDB
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