Director: Lone Scherfig
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Sam Clafin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Paul Ritter, Rachael Sterling, Richard E. Grant, Eddie Marsden, Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irons
Written by: Gaby Chiappe and (based on the novel “Their Finest Hour and a Half”) Lissa Evans
Running Time: 117 mins
Release date: 21st April 2017
During World War II, the British government had a section called the Department of Information, which had a section devoted to making propaganda films, encouraging people to join the war effort or telling them tales of bravery by our servicemen and women. Based on the novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, An Education director Lone Scherfig has brought to the screen a charming tale of the department, in particular, a woman who tried to break the mode.
Catrin Cole is a female writer who has been hired by the Department of Information to write scripts for the film department, creating shorts to be played before the main features. When a story of two sisters who took their small boat to Dunkirk to help save the soldiers emerges, the department decide to make a full-length feature with Catrin as a key writer, responsible for the slop, or the female dialogue. Working alongside Tom Buckley, a mutual respect begins that could lead to romance. If only Catrin wasn’t married to an artist.
Scherfig has a touch when it comes to gentle comedy dramas and it is truly on show here. Capturing a time when danger was around every corner as people nervously rushed home during air raids or had to find refuge in the underground system while counterbalancing that with the unglamorous world of film making and Catrin’s time stuck in a cramped office, the attention to detail is superb. Even the film stock takes you back to that period in history.
You could easily watch the workings of a department whose sole existence is to raise the spirits of the ordinary folk who are having to live the horror bombs being dropped and that would be a satisfying movie in itself. You could even just watch a woman being pulled by her own determined to make an impression in a time when women weren’t looked upon as being important enough, caught up in a man’s world and that would be fascinating as well. Then there’s the making of a propaganda film, which is the bulk of this movie’s story, about two heroines and the whole movie process. What we get is all three thrown together, in a tight, fascinating tale.
So we have plenty of comic situations including an actor full of self-importance, the hiring of an American airman without any acting experience and the constant bickering between writers, writers and producers and the tricks of the film industry (the creation of Dunkirk is hilarious). We have the more serious parts about an independent woman in a time where strong women don’t really exist as well as a quiet romance underplaying the whole thing. Sadly, it’s this romance that doesn’t quite work as well as the other parts, seriously let down by one moment that is so contrived you feel slightly annoyed that it was allowed to happen.
Yet while this does have moments of tragedy, this is a very joyous tale that could have been made during the Ealing period, brimming with interesting characters, performed superbly by an expert cast. Gemma Arterton is, without a doubt, a star who shines on the screen. She is a delight as Catlin, with her gentle Welsh accent and a smile that can melt even the hardened heart. She brings a drive and determination to her character, a woman who wants to quietly make it in a man’s world when the men don’t think she can do it.
The film is stolen, literally, by Bill Nighy as an egotistical actor who thinks he’s a bigger star than he really is. Every scene he appears in he chews up the scenery as only Nighy knows how to do. In fact, this is Nighy at his most Nighy, with his sudden jerks and smooth delivery of a gag. He is, quite simply, superb.
Their Finest deserves to be a big smash hit. It’s joyful, funny, touching and oozing so much charm, it will take a long time to shake it off. A 100% crowd pleaser. If fast cars or Guardians aren’t your things, then this will satisfy your cinematic needs. Lovely.