Their Finest is a fictionalized tale about the efforts by the British Ministry of Information, Film Division to make movies intended to lift the morale of the British people in the midst of World War II particularly during the London blitz attacks in 1940.
The movie, based on Lissa Evan’s novel “Their Finest Hour and a Half,” introduces Catrin Cloe (Gemma Arterton) accidental – like many women, Cole stepped beyond her normal secretarial duties to fill a role ordinarily held by a man during peace – copywriter drafted into the Ministry’s staff by snarky and seemingly dismissive staff writer Tom Buckley (Sam Calflin) to contribute “the slop” (aka women’s dialogue) to national propaganda films meat to life the spirits of movie-goers during the war. He’s convinced she’s what’s missing – despite his obvious snark – and ultimately, he’s more correct that he could ever imagine.
Cole takes on the role which swiftly turns into far more than background work when her quick thinking and smooth handling not only leads to the Ministry’s next story angle – about the evacuation of Dunkirk – to get approved but to handling its temperamental actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy) ultimately becoming his script doctor. The movie works in some subtle commentary on the role of women during the war (let’s hear it for pro-feminist propaganda done right) and shows both the inherent politics and cynicism of making a movie during war time while living a lie.
Director Lone Scherfig, navigates through a bombed-riddled London highlighting the utter commonness of destruction and matter-of-fact way the people adjusted to their circumstances and pushed forward with living, working, loving, while struggling to survive. His scene selection drives home the devastation of war while cushioning the main storyline in a bubble. This out of time feel to the filmmaking process, makes it all the more abrupt and unsettling when the reality of war intrudes. Scherfig uses his cast to great effect weaving a story within a known history to create an artful tale.
This is a movie with a steady pace moving with a sense of inevitability very common in for period films about the war. The trick is where the story’s taking you isn’t where you think and the conclusions you’ll draw about the people and their motivations will shift as you learn more about them. It’s doesn’t have a very “American” sensibility so that pace causes some impatience – mostly because some will think they’ve figured out what happens next – but it’s wit and comedic timing more than hold this story together and keep your interest.
Their Finest weaves comedy, tragedy, romance, and war time drama together (not always seamlessly) to create a compelling story that shifts the narrative from tales of war on the front lines to the battle (for hearts and minds) on the home front and focuses on the struggle to live authentically in a time when the understood societal roles of men and women as well as the world itself are upside down and topsy-turvy.
This picture-in-a-picture gives you romance, humor, and unexpected insight into an aspect of life during the Second World War worth thinking about.
This is a well thought out story with twists, turns, triumphs, and tragedy well worth the 117 minutes of your time.
Rating: 3.25 out of 5 stars
With London emptied of its men now fighting at the Front, Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired by the British Ministry of Information as a “slop” scriptwriter charged with bringing “a woman’s touch” to morale-boosting propaganda films. Her natural flair quickly gets her noticed by dashing movie producer Buckley (Sam Claflin) whose path would never have crossed hers in peacetime. As bombs are dropping all around them, Catrin, Buckley and a colorful crew work furiously to make a film that will warm the hearts of the nation. Although Catrin’s artist husband looks down on her job, she quickly discovers there is as much camaraderie, laughter and passion behind the camera as there is onscreen.
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, and Bill Nighy
Director: Lone Scherfig
Writer: Screenplay by Gaby Chiappe. Based on the novel by Lissa Evans