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.
With London emptied of men now fighting in the Second World War, Mrs. Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) lands herself a job writing copy for propaganda films that need “a woman’s touch”. Her natural flair quickly gets her noticed by dashing movie producer and screenwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), whose path would never have crossed hers in peacetime. With the country’s morale at stake, Catrin, Buckley and a colourful crew including withering star, Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), work furiously to make a film that will warm the hearts of the nation and restore faith in British national pride. As bombs are dropping all around them, Catrin discovers there is as much drama, comedy and passion behind the camera as there is onscreen.
Based on the novel Their Finest Hour by Lissa Evans, Their Finest is almost explicitly tailor-made for mums and grans – painfully so, in fact. It’s got all the trappings you’d expect: vintage glamour and decorum a la ‘40s London, love triangles, conservative British-chortling humour, the war, and of course – what cinematic love ballad would be complete without the seaside?
The film starts out quite patchy. It’s hazy, ambiguous, not to mention there is no discernible narrative among the many moving but unconnected sub-plots. But what starts out as a very tenuous story gets stitched together rather nicely as you move through it, ultimately becoming a cute example of meta screenwriting.
But the whole ‘movie within a movie’ thing is only successful through the magic combo of director Lone Scherfig (Italian For Beginners, An Education), and cinematographer Sebastian Blenkov (Miss Sloane).
Here, the pair have designed a reality so layered and sapped-up with lovey-dovey, hubba-hubba sub-text that you’re able to look past the predictability of first-time screenwriter Gabby Chiappe’s adaptation and simply get taken with the tide of romance and nostalgia. It’s impossible not to. Your cynicism will be tested – resistance is futile.
Gemma Arterton is understated yet forceful in her role as Mrs. Catrin Cole, and as such perfectly embodies the swelling rage and frustration of talented women in patriarchal wartime England. Likewise, Sam Claflin is nothing less than charming as the Mr. Darcy-type; rising to the challenge of showing he has range beyond The Hunger Games, and in fact may even have confirmed that he would be better suited to more dramatically skewed roles. Fans of Bill Nighy will not be disappointed with his spectacular, witty-as-ever performance as a fading star struggling to keep his grip on fame. Regrettably however, as a supporting role, his talents – as usual – go typically under-utilised and you find yourself wishing he had a lot more screen time.
All things considered Their Finest relies too much on Harlequin Romance tropes and is for the most part, predictable. But we can forgive because of the filmmakers’ acute and clever awareness of it being so. It’s an endearing quality that successfully disarms your inner judgmental cynic (you know, the one that makes you want to rip your eyeballs out at every stolen glance and wistful stare) – allowing you to actually enjoy something so sickeningly romantic and starry-eyed. Mothers Day is coming up – take mum, gran and maybe even aunty Kath – it’s right up their alley for sure.