Their Finest offers an intriguing glance into the British Film Industry during World War II, through the eyes of a woman appointed as a scriptwriter during those dark times.
Said woman is Catrin (Gemma Arterton). Initially given the rather sexist assignment of writing the “slop” (women’s dialogue) in wartime information shorts, she is subsequently seconded to a major Dunkirk themed propaganda production. Here she meets cynical co-writer Tom (Sam Claflin), with whom she gradually forms a close bond. She also meets the entertainingly vain Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), a full-on luvvie who initially objects to being cast as drunken comic relief, but over time comes to admire and respect Catrin’s talents.
I liked this film for several reasons. As someone whose twin passions are writing and cinema, Their Finest appeals to me at that level alone. Performances, script and direction are all good, and in addition to the fine leads, the supporting cast includes memorable roles for the likes of Eddie Marsan, Richard E Grant and Jeremy Irons. Lone Sherfig (who also directed An Education) conjures a genuinely compelling atmosphere of life during wartime, all the more fascinating for being witnessed through the eyes of a film industry soldiering on in the face of the London Blitz.
Gaby Chiappe’s finely observed screenplay (adapting Lissa Evans’s novel Their Finest Hour and a Half) is historically interesting, witty, romantic and poignant. There are many interesting themes explored including artifice versus realism, particularly through the film-within-a-film approach, which also candidly shows how half-true tales of thwarted heroism were retold as tales of cinematic courage, for an understandable greater good, morale wise. As Tom says, regarding the popularity of cinema during wartime, people want an order and logic in their films that contrasts with the unpredictability and chaos of their daily lives. With random tragedy able to strike at any time, the need for such films was all the more important.
It also touches on the empowerment of women, and how some men feared that having been called upon to do jobs men traditionally did, women “would not go back into their boxes” after the war. Even the most sympathetic of male characters in the film is depicted engaging in the casual sexism of the time – not because the film is waving fingers, judging them by 21st Century standards, but because it is both relevant to the subject matter and an accurate reflection of the way things were.
In short, Their Finest is an entertaining and satisfying piece of work, well worth watching.