“Their Finest” (2017)
Running Time: 117 minutes
Written by: Gaby Chiappe
Directed by: Lone Scherfig
Featuring: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Jake Lacy, Richard E. Grant, Henry Goodman, Rachael Stirling, Eddie Marsan, Helen McCrory, and Claudia Jessie
Phyl Moore: He is an actor. Unless you have reviewed him, had intercourse with him, or done both simultaneously, he won’t remember you.
Films about film-making are always entertaining but when you add on the fact that this story takes place in England during World War II after the massacre and defeat at Dunkirk this makes “Their Finest” (2017) all the more entertaining as well as illustrating why movies during times of war or in times of trouble can be so important. This movie for me was touching as well as telling one of the most important defeats of England by Germany before the US entered the war and the tide of the war shifted forever. What this movie does as well is to make fun of almost every role in front of as well as behind the camera – it is fantastic. This movie is also perfectly cast with such fine English actors that you just want this film to never end.
“Their Finest” is centred around Catrin Cole (Arterton) who is summoned to an interview at the Ministry of Information, where she is taken on to write script for short information films. Her husband Ellis Cole (Jack Huston) is a war artist, unable to get an exhibition and exempted from the call-up due to a Spanish Civil War leg wound – he is initially accepting of her job but when she becomes the only wage earner he begins to feel threatened and plans to send her back home to Wales, on the pretence of keeping her safe from the London Blitz.
After a clash with the actor Ambrose Hilliard (Nighy) when he asks for a change to one of her scripts, Catrin’s superiors instead send her to research a news story about twin sisters Lily and Rose sailing their father’s boat to take part in the Dunkirk evacuation. However, on meeting them she discovers that they in fact had engine trouble just off Southend-on-Sea shortly after setting off and were towed back into port by a tug which had taken part in the evacuation and so were mistakenly reported as reaching Dunkirk themselves. At risk of losing her Ministry job and being sent back to Wales, Catrin lies to her superiors and they agree to make the film as “The Nancy Starling”, with Catrin, Tom Buckley (Claflin) and Raymond Parfitt (Paul Ritter) as the scriptwriters. They begin to write a scenario and – even when their superiors discover Catrin’s deception – she convinces them to continue with its production as fictional film rather than a factual one.
This movie tackles so many issues of life during World War II it is hard to know where to begin. The stress that Londoners lived with from day to day is one of the elements of the film that is dealt with, some pretty heavy emotions for a movie that deals with show business, albeit even during war time. All of the characters within this movie have to deal with reality that they, their friends or families may not be around after a night of shelling by the Nazis, it is frightening and becomes all too real for each and every character within this film – I warn you now there will tears.
Another of the most important ideas that the film looks at, and this was not unique to the UK, but to all counties involved in the war was the fact that most able bodied men were away fighting the war – so this had the effect of forcing women into roles they would not traditionally be involved in. There are plenty of examples of this but my favorite example are the twins who the movie is based on become engineers – because of the movie that is ultimately made. This movie deals with the war, not the aftermath where there was fallout from men returning home to women who had a taste of equality and wanted more. That is another film that deserves to be made as well, another movie to look at is the Tom Hanks film “A League of their own” (1992) which dealt with similar issues although not as deadly in terms of the loss of life on the home front.
This film works for many reasons, one of the prime reasons are the lead actors who all have their choice of roles as well as possessing high international recognition so it is to their credit that they appear in this film. The film’s lead is Gemma Arterton who lately has had a successful run of English produced movies such as “Gemma Bovary” (2014), “The Girl with all the Gifts” (2017) and now “Their Finest” (2017). Arterton is playing Welsh and a girl married to an artist fleeing the job as a munitions girl – she wants more so supports both of them while trying to flex her own artistic muscles – she is a shining light in this film. One wonders how long it is before she goes on to bigger roles. The two male leads are played by Sam Claflin who is a somewhat love interest as well as a screenwriter; and Bill Nighy as an aging leading man known to the public for playing a police officer in his heyday which is fading fast. Claflin after his stint in the ‘Hunger Games’ franchise has been making smaller English films, this must stand as one of the better ones, here he proves he is not only a great smile but can act alongside some of the best. Nighy who exudes charms has made playing eccentric characters look easy and it should come as no surprise that not only is he funny but he also delivers some of the most emotional dialogue towards the end of the film.
This movie which could be called somewhat feminist, it is written by Gaby Chiappe and directed by Lone Scherfig both women as well very experienced filmmakers – I cannot think of two more qualified people to adapt the book by Lissie Evans. All three women are a partnership in honoring a special story about courageous artists who would not let the truth get in their way. This story honors all the people who suffered as well as come to the aid of others when the events on Dunkirk unfolded – it shows that the event like all successes happen when people work together and not tear each other down. The narrative of the film is simple following cause and effect while maintaining a traditional three act structure, this film becomes something special with real lessons being taught – one of the biggest is to honor the fallen, respect those who have gone before but don’t let dogmatic and out of date practices frame reality.
I for one cannot recommend this movie more highly; it is funny, sad as well as being redemptive. It should make you go and find out more about this time in the UK as well as the world. It should also make you think about where you are in the world and the sacrifices that were made to get you there. I have said in earlier reviews that the UK produce one or two low budget films about people each year, this looks to be the first and I hope it’s not the last.
Out now in New Zealand cinemas.
Like this? Try:
“Eddie the Eagle” (2016)
“Sunshine on Leith” (2013)
“The King’s Speech” (2010)
“A Royal Night Out” (2016)