The Letter Men: A short film review

Based on the largest collection of queer love letters from WWII, The Letter Men is a window into the untold true story of two gay men in love but torn apart by war.

If you were given nine minutes to make an impact on a person, how would you do it? What would you say or how would you convey it? Could you leave the impression you were wanting? Director Andy Vallentine did just that with his short film The Letter Men.

What is the Letter Men?

The Letter Men is based on the real life love and letters from GIlbert Bradley to his partner, Gordon Bowsher. The letters were exchanged from the years of 1938 to 1941, they were later found in 2017. The words and tone of these personal letters allows us to be taken to the very battlefields that separated them and allows us to share in the love between them

The Letter Men is a short film directed by a queer Michigan native, Andy Vallentine. The Letterman was co-writer by Danny and Andy Vallentine, produced by Cameron Hutchison and Siddharth Ganji. It stars Garrett Clayton and MAtthew Postlethwaite.

As the story opens, we are shown a boat full of beautiful men enjoying a summer’s day out on a boat. Gilbert is sitting reading a book of poems as Gordon spies him from across the way. Making apologies, he excuses himself to go talk to Gilbert. Through flirting and talking of fate, they fall for one another. As the scene slowly fades, the foreshadowing of bombers flying across the sky fill the screen. 

The film, The Letter Men, is the short synopsis of the 200 letters from Gilbert  to his lover, Gordon. 

Queer history

Would it surprise you that many people think that LGBTQ history is fairly new? Think back to history class, there isnt much mention of LGBTQ history there, if at all. What little there is starts to show up around the crime civil rights were being fought for. Until the late 1990s, there wasnt even large queer representation in media. That leaves a lot of people thinking that we didn’t exist beyond a certain point in history. The truth goes far deeper and thanks to movies like The Letter Men, we can start to see just how ingrained LGBTQ people are in history.

So much of our history has been lost to the ages. We have been forced to hide who we are out of perscution through the ages. In World War II, lovers often burned their letters, after they were received, so that they would not be found out. That left their lovers back home, often without word of their condition or survival.

We are watching our history being erased, out of fear. These few 200 letters between Gilbert and Gordon are the only ones of their kind in circulation and shows a brief glimpse into a love affair that is no different than any other love affair but is also filled with the complexities of survival and fear that few can relate. 

A love to last the ages

To truly capture the effects of love and its hold on people, it has been left to the realm of the poets. To string words together to illicit feelings of deep love, sadness, and joy are skills few seem to carry. Andy Vallentine shows those words shared by Gordon and Gilbert in a light that would stand up against Romeo and Juliet for all of its tradegey infused realness. But yet, the spark of hope fills us and carries us to where we know that this is a love that will survive the times.

At times, I sit here in amazement about our history and where we are now. Since 1999, we have seen the world change and appear to be somewhat accepting as Gay Marriage was passed. Now, we watch as our rights are being stripped away from us, pushing us back to a time before Stonewall.

What shocks me most is that in the images of queer lovers of the past and with these surviving 200 love letters, that those people involved seemed more sure of their love than we do now. For all of the fear of being found out they had to deal with, you dont see it reflected in their eyes or words. Only the love they feel for their partners. They devotions of love haunt us for something similar and hoping they will survive the situations they are in.

Will future generations think that of us? How different will we appear to them?

Vallentine ends the film with Gordon saying, “if all of our letters could be published, in the future, in a more enlightened time.” I would like to think that time is now, but I feel that will be for the next generation to know and for us to dream about, along with Gordon and Gilbert.

The Letter Men by Andy Vallentine

I was honored to be able to view this short film by Andy Vallentine. My boyfriend actually found it, while looking for topics that I would enjoy writing about. He knows my love of Queer history and this was pefect. He sent me an article and from there I reached out to Vallentine to ask permission to view it and if he would answer a few questions. 

I am pleased that I had that chance and to share with you a short interview wtih the directo Andy Vallentine.

ME: How long have you been making films? 

Andy: I’ve been a filmmaker ever since I can remember. I’ve lived in Los Angeles now for over 10 years, Letter Men was really my first short film that I had ever made. I has done some smaller things, but I really consider Letter Men my debut. 

ME: Have you always did LGBTQ content? 

Andy: Not always, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community I’ve also felt like we should be the ones to tell those stories. So lots of my work always includes some kind of queer spin. 

ME: What prompted you to do a story about men from World War II era? 

Andy: I had always had an interest in history and WWII, my grandfather was a glider pilot in WWII and shared many of his experiences with me as a kid. When I saw the BBC article about the largest collection of LGBTQ+ love letters, I knew I had to be the filmmaker to tell Gilbert and Gordon’s story. 

ME: How did you come by the letters?

Andy: After I read the article I reached out to the owner of the letters, and started a conversation about obtaining the rights to the letters. After a few trips to the UK, I got the rights and am now trying to make a feature film or series based on the letters. 

ME: How did you create the dynamic of an emerging relationship between the actors that we cant see in how Gilbert and Gordon interacted with one another?

Andy: Matthew and Garrett are wonderful actors and it’s wild to think they had just met a few hours before filming and could pull off this beautiful relationship on film. Music is also key, it helps set the mood and conveys how I think the characters should be feeling in that moment. 

ME: What does this film mean to you? 

Andy: I’m just so proud of this short, that it has gone so far. It’s been in over 20 film festivals around the world and has won numerous awards. I’m most proud that I was able to tell Gilbert & Gordon’s love story to the world. 

ME: What do you hope others will take from it? Why do you feel this piece is important for our queer community?

Andy: That gay/queer relationships have been happening forever, just because we are generally more accepted now (in media that is), it’s important to acknowledge we’ve also been here still the beginning and we are NOT going away.

To those that remember

Andy Vallentine is considered one of the premier up-and-coming directors in Los Angeles. He draws his creative inspiration from the forged-in-fire experiences of being a dyslexic gay kid in small-town Michigan. What was once his shame he now considers his greatest strength.

He is currently in post-production for his film THE MATTACHINE FAMILY, written by creative partner and husband Danny Vallentine. This film is being produced by Zach Braff (GARDER STATE, SCRUBS), Scot Boland (LORD OF THE RINGS), and Mike Diaz and stars Nico Tortorella (YOUNGER), Juan Pablo Di Pace (FULLER HOUSE) and Emily Hampshire (SCHITTS’S CREEK).

David Vallentine has always been a writer at heart. He started writing his first screenplay when he was just ten years old and has since learned a thing or two about telling a compelling story from some tremendous mentors. Danny worked for Barry Mendel at Apatow Productions where he was involved in the development of screenplays such as Trainwreck, The Big Stick, and Juliet, Naked. He is also collaborating on his first feature with Zach Braff called The Mattachine Family which stars Nico Tortorella, Juan Pablo Di Pace, and Emily Hampshirite. His passion is telling stories that have not yet been told.

Garrett Clayton who plays Gilbert Bradley, recently won the Ovation Award for Best Lead Actor in a Musical for his performance as ‘Pennywise’ in IT: A MUSICAL PARODY at the Rockwell Table & Stage, and was , and was nominated for Best Actor by

Matthew Postlethwaite, who plays Gordon Bowsher, is an award winning actor from England. Matthew began acting from an early age training briefly at LAMDA, Yale, and eventually studying in the Master Class at Beverly Hills Playhouse for five years. 

To a more enlightened time

The Letter Men  is a short film directed by Andy Vallentine and he hopes to be able to continue it into a full length film or a series, covering all of the letters from Gilbert and Gordon. At present, it has been viewed at over 20 Festivals and won numerous awards. But the steps he is taking to preserve Queer history is beyond measure.

If you take one thing away from this article, I hope that it is you understand just how far reaching into history we go and that just because it is not alway obvious, we have made an impact on the world and our stories need to be told.

You can find Andy Vallentine on his social media

What do you think of this story? Do you feel we need more research into our history to be shared with out community and the world? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to share it on your social media.


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