A warm and heartfelt film that shows how the magic of cinema can help people through the most difficult of times.
The year is 1940, and London is in the midst of World War Two. Welsh copywriter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is brought in by the Film Division at the Ministry of Information, to help write a new film that will help boost morale and persuade America to join the war. Catrin is required, however, to write the “slop” (an old saying for women’s dialogue) and thus make the film more appealing to females. Although more talented than the other writers that include Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) and offered less pay than her male colleagues, Catrin accepts. Adapted from the novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans, what follows is a heart-warming and entertaining film that gives a great insight into British filmmaking in the wartime period.
Catrin is tasked with researching a good story for the film that will appeal to the home front. She interviews twin sisters, whom newspapers claim stole their drunken father’s boat and heroically sailed to Dunkirk to bring home stranded soldiers. Whilst this is not entirely true, Catrin uses the story for the film and it delights audiences upon its release.
One element I really enjoyed about Their Finest is its ability to use humour to embrace British values. When Catrin returns home following a horrific bombing that she narrowly escaped, she assures her husband “I’ll be fine after a cup of tea”. Her remark seems absurd, but it is so very British, and a reminder of the motivational ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ attitude conveyed by wartime Britain. Another great strength of the film is Bill Nighy, playing narcissistic yet loveable actor Ambrose Hilliard. He used to be a successful actor in a popular detective series, and when his agent suggests that Hilliard should accept the role of the old drunken uncle in Catrin’s film, Hilliard is comically disgusted. When urged to calm down, Hilliard replies “I am calm. What you are seeing is controlled anger, tempered with icy detachment”. Nighy is a scene stealer throughout, with one favourite being when he irritates the whole film crew when hogging the bathroom of the cottage they’re staying in whilst shooting on location, merrily reciting “pretty copper kettle” at the mirror over and over as a vocal warm up. The film’s tribute to British cinema is also a highlight. In one funny scene, we see the ‘troops’ of Dunkirk, tiny figures painted on a large sheet of glass held up over the beach as a backdrop, giving an interesting insight into how films of the time were made.
Arterton also delivers a great performance as Catrin. Arterton captures her character’s wit, intelligence and ambition, and her role is a positive nod to the huge effort contributed by women during the war. Claflin’s Buckley is also entertaining; grumpy and sarcastic, his and Catrin’s flirtatious bickering is amusing for viewers.
Despite this, the film is not without faults. The pace at times feels a little slow-moving, but this is only a small issue. The darker moments of the film focusing on the horrors of war also felt quite sudden in places amongst the positive feel, although perhaps this was done to reiterate how during the war tragedy could literally strike at any moment – something which we are reminded of all too well at a later devastating moment in the film.
Their Finest is a lovely film that captures the optimistic spirit of the nation in wartime Britain.
Their Finest (2017), directed by Lone Scherfig, is distributed in the UK by Lionsgate. Certificate 12A.