What it's about:
It’s World War II, and with London emptied of its men, Catrin Cole is hired by the British Ministry of Information as a “slop” scriptwriter charged with bringing “a woman’s touch” to morale-boosting propaganda films. Her natural flair quickly gets her noticed by dashing movie producer Buckley, whose path would never have crossed hers in peacetime. As bombs are dropping all around them, Catrin, Buckley, and a colourful crew work furiously to make a film that will warm the hearts of the nation.
What we thought:
It's hard to believe that someone managed to make a WWII film that was both endearing to watch yet retain that emotional trauma experienced by those left behind, losing their loved ones to the war both on the field and at home. At the same time, it also highlights one of the key turning points for women in Europe as the War gave them more agency outside of the home. Their Finest is a perfect example of that British wit and emotional subtlety that Americans are not so apt at delivering through film, and even your grandparents will enjoy the charm of this lovely yet sad film.
Set in 1940 at the height of WWII, a young secretary (Gemma Arterton) is hired by the British Ministry of Information to help write the women dialogue of one of their propaganda films. She clashes with a stubborn scriptwriter (Sam Claflin) and a veteran actor (Bill Nighy) past his prime while balancing work and her relationship with a passionate artist (Jack Huston).
An important feature of WWII that wasn’t as widely used in a war before was the propaganda machine perpetuated by both sides to help unify their respective countries and retain support for their cause. The Allies used it as much as the Nazis, and as they say: History is written by the victors.
Their Finest looks at this aspect of the war through some auspicious glasses, and though you might contend the morality of these kind of government-sponsored media content, you can’t deny the impact such films had on mobilising the masses and their importance to the war effort.
The style of the film is quite old school BBC, though a little less stiff, and has that nostalgic glow about it. The film however doesn’t hide the war behind humour. Instead, it offers it as a sort of coping mechanism for the characters who have to carry on despite their many losses. One line especially stood out for me drove home how much was lost in that war, said by a mourning actor to Arterton’s character: “You and me, given opportunities only because young men are gone.” Be prepared to cry a lot in this film.
Arterton is a stunning actress and though she’s been in some less-than-average movies before, Their Finest showed off her best side and she got to use her theater talent on the big screen. Nighy was of course his usual suave self but with a touch of melancholy about his age and the mortality of those younger. Him and Arterton made a charming duo and I can’t imagine any of this happening without them. Claflin, on the other hand, had the advantage of a very well-written character, though the man does know how to ooze with nerdy charm.
Director Lone Scherfig (An Education, One Day) is very concise and systematic in her approach to the film, without the film feeling cold.
Their Finest is a clean, straight-cut film filled with Brit wit and charm, balanced just right with the gloom of war, and a film that anyone will enjoy. If your cinematic interests this weekend stretch further than superheroes or speedo-clad lifeguards, then give this little gem a try.