TRIBECA – The Letter Men Director Andy Vallentine “Against all odds, Gilbert and Gordon’s love lives on through their letters, and I wanted to be the filmmaker to tell their story”

We caught up with the talented director Andy Vallentine of the LGBTQ+ romantic film THE LETTER MEN ahead of its Tribeca selection and screening. The film stars Garrett Clayton (NBC’s Hairspray Live!) and Matthew Postlethwaite (Netflix’ Peaky Blinders).  This true story has been selected by Tribeca Film Festival, where it will receive its world premiere.

THE LETTER MEN is based on the real love letters written by Gordon Bowsher to his sweetheart, Gilbert Bradley. Their love letters were exchanged between the years of 1938 and 1941 but were uncovered in 2017. Life as a homosexual at that time was incredibly difficult, gay activity was a court-martial offence, jail sentences for so-called “gross indecency” were common, and much of society strongly disapproved of same-sex relationships. Using the actual text of the letters, THE LETTER MEN transports us directly into the places of the letters and their hearts, battlefields, air raid shelters, and lost, golden moments. 

First, I would like to congratulate you on getting into Tribeca Film Festival 

Thank you so much, it honestly feels like a dream. Tribeca is one of those Festivals that filmmakers strive to showcase their work at, and I couldn’t be prouder that my first festival showing of any of my films will be at Tribeca! 

This is a beautiful story, I would love to know more about the story of the two lovers? 

We have a lot of the pieces of the story, but it’s still nowhere near complete. We know they met in 1938 and were together until 1941. During that time, Gordon sent at least 200 letters to Gilbert. The interesting thing about using letters as source material is that we get an unparalleled insight into the minute details of Gordon’s daily life—the places he went, the things he ate, the people he saw, the things that made him feel happy, sad, or worried. The big things, the things we would want to use to build a narrative, were mostly just alluded to. If you think about it, someone is unlikely to spell everything out in explicit detail. But the thing is that having all ordinary insights into Gordon really helped us build a compelling character version of Gordon within their story as we know it. That is, two men in love pulled apart by war. So much is still unknown about their lives beyond what we have from the letters. The last time I went to England I had the incredible opportunity to meet and interview someone who knew both Gordon and Gilbert. It’s such an honor to be a steward of their story and I am committed to learning more. 

That is, two men in love pulled apart by war.

What made you want to share this story with the world? 

Honestly after I read the original BBC article about the discovery of the letters, there is this quote from one of Gordon’s letters where he said “wouldn’t it be wonderful if all our letters could be published in the future in a more enlightened time? Then all the world could see how in love we are.” It’s such a remarkable, prescient line. Against all odds, Gilbert and Gordon’s love lives on through their letters, and I wanted to be the filmmaker to tell their story. 

Against all odds, Gilbert and Gordon’s love lives on through their letters, and I wanted to be the filmmaker to tell their story. 

Is there any part of Gilbert and Gordon’s story that was particularly difficult to film? 

I think there is an adage somewhere that you should never film on a boat. Unfortunately for us there is quite a bit in the letters about these amazing gay boat parties, including the one where Gilbert and Gordon first met. I’m so glad we have this included in the film, but the boat scene was truly rough for all of us. This was not because of the story but the massive waves. Most of the crew got sea-sick and you can see in some of the shots that we were probably going up and down by at least 8 feet due to the surf. Let’s say we were all very happy once that scene was wrapped. 

There is quite a bit in the letters about these amazing gay boat parties, including the one where Gilbert and Gordon first met.

This film has got a lot of potential, are there any prospects of making this into a feature? 

100% a feature film, or mini-series. The fact that Gordon’s letters survived is a gift to all of us and there is so much within them about their relationship, queer culture, the tragedies they both experienced from the war, and the unconditional love they had for each other. We have a couple of interesting ideas on how we could adapt their letters and their story into something that reflects the importance of the letters and their love within the larger context of their time. 

The fact that Gordon’s letters survived is a gift to all of us and there is so much within them about their relationship, queer culture, the tragedies they both experienced from the war, and the unconditional love they had for each other.

Can you tell us a little bit about the cast? 

The two principal roles were played by two extraordinary actors: Garret Clayton (KING COBRA) and Gilbert and Mathew Postlethwaite (PEAKY BLINDERS) as Gordon. I was very fortunate that they both happened to be available and fell in love with the story as much as I had. Both brought so much depth to the characters and did this incredible thing—they allow the audience to fall in love with them in less than 8 minutes, a true triumph in any short film. 

Both brought so much depth to the characters and did this incredible thing—they allow the audience to fall in love with them in less than 8 minutes, a true triumph in any short film. 

What is next for you ? 

I’m actually wrapping up post-production on my first feature film, The Mattachine Family! The film is a beautiful LGBTQ+ indie feature about one man’s journey to find his chosen family. The film was written by my creative partner and husband Danny Vallentine drawing on our own personal journey to becoming fathers. This film is being produced by Zach Braff (Garden State) and Scot Boland (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Walk). The film stars Nico Tortorella (Younger, The Walking Dead: World Beyond) and Juan Pablo Di Pace (Mamma Mia!, Fuller House). You can look for it to hit the festival scene in late 2022, or early 2023. 

THE LETTER MEN was co-written with Vallentine and his husband Danny Vallentine. This live-action short film was produced by Cameron Hutchison, Mike Diaz and Siddharth Ganji, whilst the stunning cinematography was created by Oren Soffer.

THE LETTER MEN will screen at Tribeca on Friday, June 10th at 9:15 pm and Wednesday, June 15th at 9 pm.

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