A Welsh girl Catrin has just moved to London. It’s the 1940s, the bombings are the everyday reality, and it’s difficult for her and her partner, a tortured artist, to make ends meet. When she gets the opportunity to become a scriptwriter of propaganda films for the Ministry of Information, she doesn’t think twice, and despite her husband’s protests, she’s able to earn enough to provide for herself.
She’s tasked with collecting the information about a positive Story of two British girls who set out to Dunkirk on their own to bring the wounded soldiers home. However, soon she finds out that the story has been blown out of proportion; she decides to hold onto the tale of bravery to change how the women are perceived.
Their Finest carefully mixes comedy, drama and romance in the right proportion, never staying with any of them for too long. It’s a fine balance between the ingredients that carefully depicts the less known story to entertainment and everyday life during the time of the Second World War. The director of One Day and An Education, Lone Sherfig brings us another outstandingly drawn picture of a woman, and employs the main character as a heroine that connects the charm of the cinema with an optimistic message. And she does pay a lot of attention to detail without making the story too heavy, but don’t be distraught by how lightweight the story is – the main obstacles that she puts in front of the characters are emotionally charged and powerful.
The Film becomes particularly endearing when the process of making the film starts. She needs to solve the conflicts in the crew by being gently persuasive, meandering around bigger and smaller egos and the requests that the ministry has given her. The attention to detail can’t escape us: there’s even a little gag that reveals how the aerial beach scene in Dunkirk would’ve been shot that delivers a little interesting fact without getting too explanatory. That depiction of the atmosphere is really engaging, too, and makes us feel that we’re indeed observing a crew working on a project, with all its quirks and big characters. The cast slip into their roles intuitively, giving us a peek into the making of a wartime propaganda movie.
Gemma Arterton’s performance is an absolute highlight. Her Catrin holds a wonderfully feminist stance as she fights for the characters in her movie to champion the gender equality – and she does it with exquisite wit and charm. She’s unapologetic and confident if need be, especially when she fights against the sexist stereotypes still prominent in her environment, but also lovingly delicate when she speaks to Rose and Lily to collect the information that she needs for the script.
Sam Claffin, who starred in a fantastic role in The Riot Club and more recently in Me Before You, once again proves himself as a great actor. He’s charming and charismatic as a wartime scriptwriter and doesn’t let us down when some darker aspects of his past come to the surface. What’s more, he’s got a unique chemistry with the leading lady: slightly suspicious of each other at the beginning, they soon grow fonder of each other, one remark and one confession at a time. Especially the outdoor scenes on the coast aid the relationship development – and make it even more convincing.
And we can’t forget about Bill Nighy, whose Ambrose Hilliard’s capricious persona brings a couple of laughs for the audience. Particularly the scenes when he teaches the “accidental” actor – an American soldier (Jake Lacey) – how to be believable on the big screen, and the moments alongside his agent (Eddie Marsan), or even more memorably, his widow (Helen McCrory).
A film that will captivate obsessive cinemaniacs for its love for the old cinema as well as the audiences who are in for an engaging, dramatic story with a couple of lighter moments, Their Finest brings a perfect combination of The Big History and The Ordinary Life to its audience. Avoiding pompousness and grotesque, it tells a lesser known story for the wider audiences – and does overwhelmingly well at translating the message.
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