THEIR FINEST (UK/12A/117mins)
Directed by Lone Scherfig. Starring Gemma Arterton, Sam Clafin, Bill Nighy, Rachel Stirling, Jeremy Irons.
THE PLOT: During World War II, a British film company sets out to make an “authentic and uplifting” film about the evacuation of Dunkirk. Screenwriter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) joins the crew to bring a female perspective to the story of twins Lily (Lily Knight) and Rose (Francesca Knight) Starling, who sailed a small boat to France to rescue Allied troops, and finds herself facing some truths of her own.
THE VERDICT: Based on the novel ‘Their Finest Hour and a Half’ by Lissa Evans, Their Finest follows the great traditions of films about making films, such as’ Singin’ in the Rain’, ‘Shadow of the Vampire’ and ‘Hail Caesar!’, and has fun with the idea that this crew are struggling to uplift the entire country while going through their own struggles at the same time.
Gemma Arterton leads the cast as Caterin Cole and although she struggles with the Welsh accent from time to time, Arterton is a charming lead, a woman who stands up for herself although she is too innocent at times. Bill Nighy plays ageing actor Ambrose Hilliard who has yet to come to terms with the fact that his best roles may be behind him. Nighy brings most of the comedy and light heartedness to the story, and obviously has fun with the character and his delusions. Sam Clafin plays the gruff Buckley; a screenwriter who has a heart of gold buried under his cool exterior and Rachel Stirling has fun with the butch, brash and no-nonsense Phyl Moore. The rest of the cast features Jeremy Irons, Eddie Marsan, Jack Huston, Helen McCrory, PauL Ritter and Richard E. Grant.
Gaby Chiappe’s screenplay has fun with the film about movies element of the story, exploring the business of show business and how women were allowed to slot into this world during WWII. As well as this, Their Finest is a love story between two unlikely partners, which has a lot of charm and charisma; making the audience root for an unusual love in unusual times. There is plenty of comedy to keep the film light, but a great balance with the darker moments that make the film emotionally deep and memorable. There are times when the script is a little flabby, with scenes seemingly inserted because they were present in the book, but do little to keep the film on track. As well as this, a third act tragedy is not only shocking, but feels as though it comes out of nowhere.
As director Lone Scherfig, whose previous films include ‘The Riot Club’ and ‘An Education’, keeps the film moving at a good speed, and obviously revels in the fact that ‘Their Finest’ takes place against the backdrop of war, but not actually as part of it, even though conflict and death infuse every scene in the film. There are some wonderful visual moments – such as mannequins lying in the road after a bomb hits London – but a tighter hand could have not only made sure the film was edited well, but given it the extra push it needed to go from good to wonderful.
In all, there is a lot to love in ‘Their Finest’; most of the cast are on wonderful form, especially Nighy, McCrory and Stirling, and there is a great balance between comedy and tragedy throughout the film. There are times when ‘Their Finest’ feels a little flabby, and a tighter edit would have benefitted the film greatly.
RATING: 4/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    In a week where there’s another film about shenanigans in the film industry of yesteryear, Their Finest is the better of the two. It relates a story of a young woman battling sexism and unfair wages in the industry in the 1940s.

    Catrin (Gemma Arterton) is a former secretary who has arrived in Blitz-era London. Married to gloomy artist Ellis (Jack Huston), she’s a talented writer who has taken up a post in the Ministry of Information. Led by Roger (Richard E. Grant), the office is developing scripts for propaganda films for the war effort. Working with the cynical Tom (Sam Claflin), she’s to write the ‘slop’ i.e. women’s dialogue. She’s tasked with developing an inspirational script around the real-life story of two sisters who apparently set forth in their small boat to save British soldiers trapped in Dunkirk. She finds that the truth is somewhat different. However, she sets out with the cast and crew to Cornwall to shoot the film, while trying to keep a handle on typically insecure and self-obsessed actor Ambrose (Bill Nighy), whose heyday is gone but still thinks he’s a leading man…

    Danish director Lone Scherfig’s latest film follows up on the likes of An Education and One Day with an outsider’s often accurate view of Britain and its people. Based on the novel Their Finest Hour And A Half by Lissa Evans, Scherfig neatly encapsulates that war-era optimism and unyielding patriotism. The film within the film is very much of the style of films of that era – a call to arms as well as relating a very human story about simple heroism. It’s also rather cheaply made, leading to some amusing moments. Along with all that, you get some backstage drama and some relevant asides about the role of young women in the industry. Early on, Tom tells Catrin that she’ll be paid less than her male co-writers. She just accepts her lot. It’s hard not to think of recent gender pay gap debates in Hollywood involving Jennifer Lawrence and other actresses here. Not much changed then.

    Tom also tells her that films have to have a sprinkle of magic dust to some degree – cinema is real life with the boring bits cut out. It’s intriguing that Catrin goes along with this fantasy, as she actually tries to lend some authenticity to her dialogue and make her characters more credible as a result. This is the film’s real strength and Arterton is reliably excellent here, relaying her frustration but also her determination to not follow to stereotype. Nighy is also wonderful, giving an air of pathos to a man who is in the afterglow of his acting career. It’s a warm performance that makes us laugh with Ambrose, not at him. Just when the film feels like it’s striking out on its own, the story reverts to its own type and adds in an infidelity sub-plot that you can see coming early on. It’s a familiar, over-used plot development which allows character dynamics to shift and is rather unnecessary to the rest of the story. It’s a small misstep though in what is otherwise jolly good fun. Their Finest is warm, insightful and comes with a light recommendation. ***