Their Finest offers some fine acting performances, many humorous moments and a couple of surprises.
Adapted from a 2009 novel by Lissa Evans and directed by Lone Sherfig (An Education, One Day) , this British film is set in London in 1940 during the height of the Blitz.
Catrin (Gemma Arterton) has moved from Wales with her husband Ellis (Jack Huston), an artist who can’t get work due to the `dark nature’ of his paintings.
In need of money she applies for a secretarial job in the British Ministry of Information’s film division. But when her supervisor (Richard E. Grant) learns that she has experience as a newspaper copywriter, he hires her to write `slop’ – screenwriter’s code for dialogue between women — for the war propaganda shorts that run between features at cinemas.
She is assigned to work with male co-writers Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) and Raymond Parfitt (Paul Ritter).
Her chance to have a real impact comes when she is sent to interview twin sisters Rose and Lily Starling (Lily and Francesca Knight), who newspapers have reported piloted their drunken father’s boat from Southend to Dunkirk to rescue wounded British soldiers. Although the story is wrong it doesn’t stop Catrin supporting the idea of a movie being made of their exploits. She then joins forces with Buckley and Parfitt to write the script for the movie The Nancy Starling . It’s no easy task given the Ministry of Information requirement that movie offers `authenticity informed by optimism’. It also has to include a `brave American’ to encourage the US to join the war effort.
Ensuring the script meets these requirements provides some of the movie’s funniest lines. Jeremy Irons, for example, delivers a highly entertaining speech as Secretary of War. Also great fun is the performance of Carl Lundbeck (Jake Lacy), the wholesome blond Air Force hero hired to ensure the film was a hit in America. It’s quickly discovered he has no acting ability- but wonderful white teeth!
Bill Nighy provides the greatest laughs. He plays the haughty thespian Ambrose Hilliard, who was the popular star of a pre-war detective series but is now reduced to playing a supporting role he feels is beneath him. The look of indignation on Nighy’s face as he reads the description of his character in the movie (`a shipwreck of a man; 60s, looks older’) is delightful.
While there are plenty of funny moments during Their Finest – given the nature of the times – there’s also tragedy, some of it which I didn’t foresee.
Providing the `romantic’ element is the relationship between Catrin and Buckley which grows as the cast and crew move to Devon to shoot The Nancy Starling. The Devon scenes also provide some entertaining glimpses of how screen effects were achieved in the 1940s.
And that’s part of the appeal of Their Finest. There are some `educational’ components such as film making in the 1940s and the role of women during the war (Catrin is paid less than her male counterparts). There’s the romance and then there’s the chance to watch the wonderful Nighy is action – something I never tire of!
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