Second World War-based films seem to be a particularly British obsession – but here comes Their Finest to remind us, in a rather shining example, why that’s quite a good idea.
A sweet, spiky and unashamedly British tale, Their Finest follows Welsh girl Catrin Cole (a nicely underplayed Arterton) as she is drafted into the film division of the Ministry of Information in order to write the “slop” (i.e. believable women’s dialogue). Lone Scherfig deftly directs as Catrin manoeuvres her way around the usual 1940s roadblocks: dealing with delicate male egos and proving her talent and right to be working in the department.
Sam Claflin is good value – and annoyingly charming – as Catrin’s arrogant colleague Tom Buckley. Although an obvious love interest, their relationship has enjoyable shades of Howard and Hildy in its competitive bickering.
It is Bill Nighy, however, that steals the film in his effortless performance as deluded thespian Ambrose Hilliard, horrified at the prospect of playing a supporting character in the department’s planned Dunkirk film. “Uncle Frank. Sixties. Looks older?”, he squawks at his agent. The part is a gift but it is not one that Nighy would ever squander, elegantly dealing with the more schmaltzy dialogue that comes his way near the film’s denouement.
It’s fair to say that Their Finest does not provide anything groundbreaking in its formula, and it starts to become a little too cosy and clichéd in its final act, before knocking its audience sideways with a rather traumatic ending.
Jolly British in a woolly jumper, chipped china sort of way, Their Finest is a wartime drama stuffed with stiff upper lips and dollops of humour: a treat, despite a latter tendency towards overly sugary sentiment. Enjoy a fabulous cast – and the best set of gnashers in cinemas this year!
CAST: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Richard E. Grant, Eddie Marsan, Helen McCrory, Jack Huston, Jeremy Irons
DIECTOR: Lone Scherfig
WRITERS: Gaby Chiappe (screenplay), Lissa Evans (novel)
SYNOPSIS: In the dark days of the London Blitz, Welsh girl Catrin (Arterton) gets a writing job in the stuffy film division of the Ministry of Information as they launch ambitious plans to shoot a film on Dunkirk to boost the morale of the nation – and tempt allies in America to join the war.