In theaters now, Their Finest is a broad look at how the United Kingdom attempted to raise the morale of it’s people.
This picture takes place during the most destructive span of the Blitz in World War II. The United Kingdom’s film department is given the task of creating pictures that are uplifting and raise the morale of a besieged nation. Catrin (Gemma Arterton) is a Welsh woman who is in desperate need of steady work and applies for what appears to be secretarial position in the office. Her boss (Richard Grant) sees that she had experience as a newspaper copywriter and hires her as a writer of “slop” – an old school term referring to dialogue between woman. Catlin isn’t too thrilled at the offer but her husband (Jack Huston) is an unsuccessful artist and they are in desperate need of money. The Ministry of War challenges the film department to create pictures that are both authentic but are filled with optimism. Basically, create a film about World War II but don’t highlight how bad off they are. They eventually agree to do a film about the rescue at Dunkirk and Catrin is paired with a screenwriter by the name of Buckley (Sam Clafin). Buckley appears to be bitter for many different reasons – the war, not finding the right woman, and pretentious actors. Buckley and Catlin eventually find common ground as casting begins for a film they haven’t written. Ambrose Hillard (Bill Nighy) begrudgingly accepts the role as the drunk uncle who dies during the rescue at Dunkirk. Hillard has enjoyed a great deal of fame over the years but now is in the twilight of his career and this film about Dunkirk is his last chance to reclaim old glory.
Atherton, Clafin, and Nighy form an unlikely ensemble but they certainly navigate the narrative with ease. Atherton’s character reminded me of those Rosie the Riveter posters as she set out to show the men that she could keep up with them. Sam Clafin’s Buckley is more of a realist and initially sets out to remind Catlin that this type of job is only temporary for women. Predictably these two go from being at odds to being extremely close. By far the best performance of the film has to go to Bill Nighy’s portrayal of Ambrose Hillard. Nighy’s Hillard is an egocentric pompous ass who cares more about the customer service at his local Italian restaurant than the bombed out buildings right next to it.
Screenwriter Gaby Chiappe manages to balance some of the more farcical elements of Lissa Evans’s novel with the reality of nightly bombings and smoldering piles of rubble on the street. At times the narrative came off as a little too easy going. While it was funny to see Catlin squabbling with politicians over what hair color the twins should have in their movie ‘Dunkirk’, it shifted the focus away from what was transpiring around them. It was like looking at World War II through rose colored glasses.
Director Lone Scherfig’s ability to strike the right tone stood out to me most of all. Scherfig doesn’t rush through the countless scenes of destruction and devastation which allows the proper reverence to be paid. She also knows to pick up the pace during its most lighthearted moments. At its core, Their Finest is a broad retelling of what took place and never seeks to be some historically centric film.
Their Finest is a fine film that could have easily been a great film had their been better writers behind the project. It’s easy to see a scenario where a film like this one will get lost in the madness that will be Guardian of the Galaxy: Vol 2. However, don’t let the throngs of Marvel fans deter you. While Their Finest is far from perfect, it’s one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had at the theater in 2017.