Their Finest (M)
Rating: 4 / 5
Take a first-rate cast plus an interesting storyline inspired by a true story and you have the makings of a fine film.
Set in World War II London, Their Finest is the story of a young Welshwoman making her way in the film world during a time when the British film industry was in desperate need of palatable propaganda films to support the war effort.
When you think of war films from this era, most of them feature a male central character, so The Finest is refreshing as it follows the life journey of our heroine, Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton), who applies for a secretarial job with a film company but is instead told she will be writing the ‘slop’—industry slang for dialogue spoken by women.
Based on Lissa Evans’ novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, Catrin was inspired by real-life World War II Welshwoman Diana Morgan, the only female writer in London’s Ealing studios in the 1940s.
Living with artist Ellis (Jack Huston), life is a financial struggle, so Catrin is delighted to score a job, finding untapped talent as a writer. A young woman of great inner strength and unflappability, we watch her grow professionally and attract the respect of her co-workers and actors, who include fading B-grade star Ambrose Hilliard, a masterful egotistical characterisation from Bill Nighy, who claims the screen every time he appears.
Nighy has a fine light comic touch alongside the ability to show sensitivity and perception. As he says to Catrin when she doubts herself: “You and I are given opportunities only because the young men have gone, but to turn our back on those opportunities, wouldn’t that be giving death dominion over life?”
And that is the message of Their Finest. Making propaganda films was part of the war effort to boost the spirits and determination of those ‘doing their bit’ and bravely facing the blitzes and bombings of wartime London.
Writer Tom Buckley’s (Sam Claflin) initial scepticism about Catrin’s writing abilities soon changes to respect, and eventually to romance. However, this is not a classic romance—there are more important issues in Catrin’s life journey than a trite happy-ever-after ending.
In a nod to the Hitchcock tradition of making a brief appearance in his own films, writer Lissa Evans appears as the ‘make-up woman’.
Arterton is magnificent as Catrin, and both Nighy and Claflin give her great support and contribute vital screen chemistry. In the smaller role of Phyl, a strongly individualistic woman in the production team, Rachael Stirling is magnetic. If she reminds you of someone, think of her mother, Dame Diana Rigg. Veteran actors Jeremy Irons and Richard E. Grant give strong performances in smaller roles, as do Eddie Marsan and Helen McCrory.
Their Finest is a slow burner, taking a while to draw the viewer in. Gradually it gets its hooks into you, sending you out pondering its message and reflecting on how important cinema was for keeping up the morale of those on the home front.
Highlight: Gemma Arterton’s luminous performance
Red flag: Adult themes