- Gemma Arterton as Catrin Cole
- Sam Claflin as Tom Buckley
- Bill Nighy as Ambrose Hilliard
- Jack Huston as Ellis Cole
- Paul Ritter as Raymond Parfitt
- Jake Lacy as Carl Lundbeck
- Richard E. Grant as Roger Swain
- Rachael Stirling as Phyl Moore
- Helen McCrory as Sophie Smith
- Jeremy Irons as Secretary of War
A splendidly engaging and unexpected ode to cinema, women and doing what needs to be done in World War II, Their Finest captures your attention and heart with the story it has to tell. A crowd pleaser with a most knowing touch is an apt way to describe the delightful Their Finest.
It is 1940, London, and the Blitz is at its height. Catrin Cole is a Welsh girl, living in an apartment with her artist husband Ellis, whose more than a bit moody and not exactly a supportive presence. A copywriter, she is called specifically the film division. Her knack for good dialogue is realised, even though it is said that she will be writing what many call the slop( women’s dialogue). She is hired for work on movies and partnered with snide and cynical Tom Buckley and older, more understanding Raymond Parfitt in the screenwriting process. Though paid less than the men and frequently questioned about her capabilities, Catrin emerges as a talented addition to the team. Being one of only a few women in a male dominated game, the odds are stacked against Catrin. But she is no wilting flower and can gradually in the story, easily handle herself against sexism and attitudes towards her doing a profession such as hers. With the War raging on, cinema provides an escape for those at home. The Ministry of Information is hoping that a new propaganda film will blend both authenticity and optimism into one, enabling audiences to feel comforted and with a rousing feeling. The film takes its basis from a newspaper article of two twin sisters using their father’s boat to rescue men from Dunkirk. Upon researching it further, Catrin discovers that the story has been exaggerated a lot. Though knowing this, she helps form a scenario around the events that will boost morale. And being that it is a propaganda film, the embellishment of facts is inevitable anyway. Catrin shows how indispensable she is with her flair for writing and her emerging determination to be taken seriously. Soon production is under way, yet various issues are present. The over the hill Ambrose Hilliard, who has a big opinion of himself, is perturbed that he is playing an old role. This is amusing because he is in his 60’s, yet can’t quite accept his glory days are far behind him. In order to appeal to American audiences and hoping to coax them into joining the war, the big wigs of production and Secretary of War employ former pilot Carl Lundbeck to be in the picture. The problem is, while handsome and projecting the right image, he is a hopeless actor. Most of all, it’s nearly a battle itself between Buckley and Catrin Through it all, Catrin manages to let her voice be heard and earn the respect and love of the initially standoffish Buckley as the unpredictable war continues. With luck, they hope their movie can be a rousing success and ignite the public imagination to a feeling of hope in a time of darkness.
Lone Scherfig, who previously demonstrated her greatness at tapping into the past in An Education, showcases that again with Their Finest. She finely discovers humour, pathos and inspiration in the story and knows exactly when to incorporate seriousness into the largely amiable proceedings. It’s a tightrope walk that could have gone wrong, but humour and maturity go hand in hand here, and highly benefits the overall product. Plus, Scherfig’s greatest asset is shooting a movie concerning World War II from a female perspective. I personally feel that there are not enough movies about World War II focus on the women who played a part, thankfully Their Finest corrects that in style and a displays a fervent female overcoming the obstacles to gain respect. The film itself is blessed with a sincere and funny screenplay, that has humour in the making of the propaganda film and the emotional undertones of the terror that war brings. It also has a great usage of wordplay, particularly between Catrin and Buckley, whose growing attraction becomes more obvious, despite the constant sniping and disagreements. You may be forgiven for thinking that Their Finest is simply cosy whimsy, but while it is charming and full of vitality, it never skirts around the tragedies or hardships of the war. And while at first you may be inclined to believe you know the outcome of the film, it throws in a surprising curve ball that changes a lot. Believe me, I never saw it coming at all, which is a credit to how the movie knows when to blind side you and show its dramatic muscle. This very instance of shock brings with it a heft of moving moments that add another string to the movie’s bow. Very much like the movie being made in the story, Their Finest knows how to please the crowd, being rousing yet never forgetting the devastation of World War II. You can’t get be wrapped up in the inspiring story, both of Catrin asserting herself more and the behind the scenes look at the propaganda movie. Comedy ensues in the brightest way in the beginning the scenes stretches, with various techniques and mishaps proving how the experience of a film is trying but usually worth it. A lovingly flowing score from Rachel Portman highlights the optimism and change of the time with deft assurance and emotional touches.
A beautifully judged performance from Gemma Arterton is one of the main joys of Their Finest. A nicely employed subtlety is evident in her keen and plucky portrayal, finding emotion and growing feistiness in the role of Catrin that is a great showcase for the actress. Lovely, genuine and boasting a backbone of steel that comes in handy when asserting her talents, Arterton makes Catrin an arresting heroine who you immediately warm too and want to watch succeed. For my money, this is one of the best parts Gemma Arterton has had in a movie and goof for her I say, as I’ve always been a fan of hers. Sam Claflin, behind small glasses and a moustache, has the stinging sarcasm and attitudes for a man of the time; while delving into the inferiority complex he has and why he acts like a jerk. He shares a nice chemistry with Arterton, that starts flinty and evolves into a mutual understanding that is lovely. Being the scene stealer that he is, Bill Nighy sinks his teeth into the part of has-been actor who still thinks of himself as the biggest star in the world. It’s a funny, self-mocking part, that also makes time for Nighy to display a caring and inspiring side to what at first appears to be a very difficult. Nighy is the one who gets most of the laughs in Their Finest. Jack Huston is left with the least engaging part of Catrin’s inattentive husband, while Paul Ritter quietly thumps away at the typewriter as the mediator in the screenwriting process. Also getting laughs is Jake Lacy, whose all American appeal and square-jawed features are handsomely used to play a charming but not very talented star thrown into the propaganda film. Richard E. Grant, Rachael Stirling and Helen McCrory provides great support, as does a cameo from Jeremy Irons as the Secretary of War.
Charming, spirited yet grounded in seriousness when it needs to be, Their Finest is wonderful movie making that celebrates the powers of cinema and inspiring women.