UK Release Date: 21st April 2017
Runtime: 117 minutes
Director: Lone Scherfig
Writer: Gaby Chiappe
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Richard E Grant, Jake Lacy, Jack Huston, Helen McCrory, Eddie Marsan, Jeremy Irons, Paul Ritter
Synopsis: A woman working as a screenwriter for Second World War propaganda films battles to ensure that the inspiring stories of women are able to rise to the surface.
Of the many differences between British and American cinema, the one for which we should feel most thankful is the restraint and tenderness British films show towards the country’s history. With Hacksaw Ridge and Sully still fresh in the mind from their chest-thumping patriotism several months after you struggled through them, it’s easy to feel cautious about what Their Finest – a movie about literal pro-Britain propaganda set during one of the most tragic – and retrospectively adored and triumphed – eras of British history is going to put in front of you.
Thankfully though, this movie is a triumph from Lone Scherfig – director of An Education and incendiary class war satire The Riot Club. From its razor-sharp script to its wonderful blend of big and small performances and grounding in reality, the film lifts you through a range of emotions in its charming, yet important story.
Gemma Arterton plays secretary Catrin Cole, who has a talent for scriptwriting, drafted in to work on a major propaganda film in the early phases of the Second World War. She joins up with writer Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) and flamboyant actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy) to write a movie that will depict something ‘authentic and uplifting’ in order to keep the Brits at home upbeat about the war and try to encourage Americans to support it as well.
While it may seem like Their Finest is telling a rather minor story – who cares about the struggles of scriptwriting when the world is at war and millions are dying? – the film grounds itself solidly in its blitz setting and embraces the magic of cinema to show the power of what our protagonists are achieving.
The film’s script is structured nicely by writer Gaby Chiappe, essentially giving the audience two pay-offs by building towards one conclusion, only to pull the rug out from underneath and build up to another finale. It’s daring to break the formula in the way this film does, but the storytelling is deftly handled and makes the final act a gut-punching success.
The ways in which it embraces its era are also shown in the movie’s attitudes towards gender politics. The male characters in Their Finest are quite casually sexist throughout the movie, but this is never done in a way to overtly strengthen its feminist credentials, only to reflect the attitudes of the time. It trusts its audience to know the characters are sexist without feeling the need to signpost it, and this makes Catrin’s triumphs all the sweeter as they feel more natural in the realistic setting.
Arriving at the start of a busy blockbuster summer, you’d be forgiven for missing Their Finest. However, what it lacks in bombast, it more than makes up for in wit, heart and craft. This year we will see two movies set around the events of the Dunkirk evacuation and now it’s over to Christopher Nolan to see if he can match the high bar this small British flick has set.
Pop or Poop?
Their Finest might not have the glamour and glitz of major Hollywood properties, but it knows exactly how to weaponise the magic of the movies to produce a delightfully told story of the British stiff upper lip in the face of adversity. It’s an emotionally rich tale with great performances and a feminist undercurrent that, while never overplayed, is unmistakably present.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.