Director: Lone Scherfig
Screenwriter: Gaby Chiappe
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Helen McCrory
Runtime: 117 mins
Genre: War, Drama, Workplace Comedy
Their Finest opens this week sporting feel-good humour, the tragedy of war and a genuine love of filmmaking. At its centre is the gorgeous Gemma Arterton buttoned up in a trench coat or a cardigan pushing new opportunities for herself as an actress and for her character. An ensemble of fine British actors back her up in a film that may refer to a time long since gone but with struggles that are still being fought today.
Arterton plays Catrin Cole who in 1940 gets a new job in wartime Britain writing female dialogue for a new propaganda film being produced by the Ministry. In the first of many throw-away lines that typify the culture “Mrs” Cole is up against, she is told she is “splendid” because she is married and understands she won’t get paid as much as the men for the same work. Her superiors will learn that she is also splendid because she has a keen eye for what will resonate with an audience who were primarily at the time women while their husbands, fathers and sons were away dying. Coming across a story of two girls who set off in their father’s fishing boat for Dunkirk to rescue soldiers and bring them back across the English Channel as Germany took Continental Europe; she manages to get a film about their story green-lit for production.
In one of the film’s most inspired scenes her male co-writers Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin having a different kind of performance here than he did in The Hunger Games series) and Raymond Parfitt (Paul Ritter) having been told the truth about the two girls map out each major plot point of a two hour film in two minutes discussing the motivation for each narrative choice and character decision whether it be real or fictional. The fact that the film revels in this kind of Meta show and tell often and yet still moves you with telegraphed plotting is down to the strong performances and a deft touch of director Lone Scherfig (An Education).
The much beloved Bill Nighy plays former matinee idol Ambrose Hilliard hired to play a drunken Uncle in the movie within a movie. The little tics of Nighy that he is known for are dialled down here for the most part as he shows the hurt ego of an ageing actor and is touching when going to identify a victim of The Blitz. It is only in his final scene Mr Nighy falls back on that persona we recognise and while it got a big laugh out of the crowd I was disappointed after seeing him just act for most of the film.
Bombs drop on London, the war threatens to derail the film and the very spirit of resistance these intrepid British storytellers seek to inspire in the local populace starts to shine through within their own actions. Some critics have labelled Their Finest a callback to an older era of films suggesting to take your Gran to see it. It is true it is set during 1940 and has comforting truths long established about love and the human spirit. The kind of truths, that don’t go out of fashion if you have a beating heart. There is poignancy and relevance to some of this in the wake of the Westminster Attack and with a lead character such as Catrin Cole who reminds us that feminism started with women just fighting to have opportunities and a voice. Far from an old fashioned film hopefully it will prove an instant classic and it’s very likely your Gran will enjoy it but the thing is…you’ll probably love it too.