Thier Finest director, Lone Scherfig

Lone Scherfig – A Dane at Home in Britain

April 21, 2017
Their Finest stars Gemma Arterton, Bill Nighy and Sam Claflin. The film is set in 1940, during the London Blitz, and tells the story of Catrin Cole [Arterton], who is hired by the British Ministry of Information to assist with writing the female dialogue (or “girl talk”) in morale-boosting propaganda films. Their Finest is Danish director Lone Scherfig’s fourth British film in a row, after An Education, One Day and The Riot Club.

Despite Lone’s Danish roots, she hasn’t made a Danish film since 2007. Lone’s unique outsider perspective on British life allows her to make films with a sincerity and sentimentality that would be harder to achieve if she were a native filmmaker. “I am fascinated and in love with England,” says Lone, “but I still see it from the outside… I don’t need to be modest or ironic the way I would if I were English. I can explore things without feeling like I have to be careful not to be too pretentious or sentimental.”

One of Lone’s favourite aspects of England is its talent – “England is a more dramatic society. A more beautiful country with very, very good actors and very, very good writers… I like the loyalty British actors have to the original text, their modesty, their work discipline and their humour. The tradition of humour is so strong in the UK.”

While most filmmakers set their sights on the money and glamour of Hollywood, Lone appreciates the freedom that shooting in the UK allows her. “If I had wanted to do more straightforward romantic comedies,” Lone says, “I would have tried to work in the United States rather than here. In the UK, there is an invitation for you to layer and nuance things. It’s not that they don’t layer things in the US, but the rules are so strict, and I’d rather have more freedom.”

In Their Finest, Lone uses this freedom to represent a love story that doesn’t conform to an audience’s expectations. “The film is shocking in parts, and I apologise, but I think this film had to be more than just sugar sweet. It’s a big debate – do you want something that is true or something that is uplifting?”

We certainly can’t say what happens to Sam Claflin’s character but, well, it took us by surprise. This really is a story about the fragility of human life.

Yes, it is. But it’s more a story about finding a professional adult identity, and then there are tragic events along the way. I just think you can’t tell a story about the London Blitz without tragic events.

Bill Nighy provides some great comic relief. Was he your first and only choice for this character?

Yes.

On the surface it’s almost like Bill is playing himself, except he’s not because you know he’s not a ham. He always has depth of character. On the surface, he is the comic relief, but underneath that he’s much more.

There are moments in the film where you can see that his character has depth – where you can see that Bill Nighy has great dramatic talent. And then he also gets to play Uncle Frank in the propaganda film, which is just great fun.

What made you feel that Gemma Arterton was suitable for this character?

It’s interesting because when Gemma speaks about the film, she speaks about it likes it’s very gentle and mild, whereas I don’t agree. I think Gemma brings a feminine innocence to her character. Catrin is not an ambitious girl – she is someone who is finding out about herself little by little – tasting blood and becoming better and better at what she does, and in that sense, I think she is a bit like Gemma. Gemma is also an extremely kind person, a very loving person, and that shines through her performance. You have someone who is fighting a cause all the time and if you read the dialogue, Catrin is not as mild and sweet as Gemma’s interpretation of her. I really like that Gemma’s own character shines through her part, and I’m glad that I let that happen.

This film is about the film industry on some level, and a woman trying to survive in the film industry and find her place and her voice. Do you relate to that a little bit?

But you can argue that Buckley [Claflin] really respects Catrin. He listens to her, trusts her and gives her a proper chance. The same for Ambrose Hilliard [Nighy]. This film is true to a time in London where women had just started working alongside men, and were just learning that they could do so.

Have you particularly encountered sexism in the industry yourself?

I’ve almost encountered the opposite – I love working with men. I love portraying men and I feel that they listen and are very respectful. If I were to talk about women’s rights or Feminism, I’d rather look at women who are truly oppressed and miserable. I mean, here I am sitting in a five star hotel, I am super privileged.

Their Finest is in cinemas now.

Read our review of Their Finest

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