Their Finest – Film Review by Frank L
Director: Lone Scherfig
Writers: Lissa Evans (based on the novel “Their Finest Hour and a Half” by), Gaby Chiappe (screenplay)
Stars: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy
Set in London during the blitz and before the United States had entered the war in 1941, the British Ministry of Information wished to create a film that would encourage America to participate in the war on the British side. Flailing around for a theme, an unlikely story about two young sisters and Dunkirk, came into view. Catrin Cole (Gemma Atterton), a young copywriter, is engaged to write the “slop”, that is the female dialogue, that will be necessary in the film. She finds herself in a male-dominated enclave where needless to say her pay is less than her male counterpart. He is Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) who initially treats Catrin with circumspection and even disdain. But gradually he begins to take a greater interest in more than her considerable script-writing skills. The film within the film is the engine which drives the plot. Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy) is a venerable actor, whose best days on stage are in the past, but he nevertheless projects an exterior of pomposity and self-importance which makes for a delightful comic caricature of himself. Initially he treats the idea of the proposed film with contempt but needs must and he enters into the process with his self-importance allowed full rein.
Two of the female characters Phyl (Rachael Stirling), a mid-ranking secretarial officer, with a fetching line in masculine dress and Sophie (Helen McRory), an actor’s agent, are both strong and knowing women who are pushing at the constraints, in their work, which society has imposed on them as women. The men are a more hapless bunch contentedly playing the roles which society has determined they should play. High ranking mandarin (Jeremy Irons) exudes magnificent complacent self-confidence and an earnest, not overly talented artist Jack Huston (Ellis Cole) both give performances which define well the circumscribed vision each has of their respective place in the structured society in which they operate.
It is therefore somewhat surprising that Catrin’s role as the talented female scriptwriter is not allowed more expression. She has genuine talent. However her professional skills as a copywriter have increasingly to compete with her emotional involvement with Tom and Ellis. She is, in fact, condemned to the predictable female role of needing a man. What lifts the film out of the well trodden path is the high calibre of acting from the entire cast with Gemma Atterton and Billy Nighy both giving very different but highly impressive performances.
The device of a film within the film allows a certain atmosphere of frivolity to be present throughout while in the real world bombs are falling, sirens are wailing and people are fleeing to underground shelters in order to survive and , of course, America has yet to be lured into the war. The entire film is a very different take on Churchill’s famous “their finest hour” comment in relation to Dunkirk. What has been created is an original mixture of themes which makes for an entertaining film.