War gets fought on more fronts then you might expect. Their Finest takes us into the other side of the war effort during World War II as a rag tag group of filmmakers pushed on by their government try to make a film that is inspirational for the men fighting, the people back home and still actually manages to be…good.
With the men of London emptied and all fighting at the Front in 1940, Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired by the British Ministry as a scriptwriter charged with bringing “a woman’s touch” (aka Female ‘slop’ dialogue) to morale-boosting propaganda films. With her natural flair and enthusiasm she quickly gets noticed by movie producer Buckley (Sam Claflin) whose path would never have crossed hers in peacetime. As bombs are dropping all around them, Catrin, Buckley and a colorful crew work furiously to make a film that will warm the hearts of the nation, but her life on the home front is strained as Catrin’s artist husband looks down on her job but she quickly discovers that the camaraderie, laughter and passion behind the camera is exactly what she needs to get herself through the war.
From the sure hands of director Lone Scherfig, Their Finest is a tight affair that flows with a real confidence thanks to some solid direction, strong writing and some surprisingly strong performances that captures how important the diversion of the cinema can truly be.
As a director Scherfig has a more then solid track record giving us efforts that have ranged from OK to borderline brilliant and this time out she really has a firm grasp of the material in a situation where the women of London are finding their footing for the very first time and are pushing back against the men left behind. These are people that are elbow deep in the emotion of war coming to grips with the fact that they have to live every day that they can to the absolute fullest because they just don’t know if another one will come around in the morning. Pulled from the novel by Lissa Evans; the screenplay from Gaby Chiappe keeps a proper balance on being British and proper but still allowing the emotion of the situation and what some of these characters are feeling to shine through. After working for years in TV, this is a very strong debut for Chiappe that draws us in with a keen sense of its characters, use of dialogue and how the narrative unfolds. Even though it’s a story about making nationalistic pap that will inspire a populace, it keeps its primary characters at the forefront so damn well it’s hard not to get invested in every single move that they make.
The consistently underrated Gemma Arterton shines here as a working woman trying to wade into a man’s world that is always changing. She brings a sense of vulnerability and strength to her character as she isn’t afraid to cry when need be or show so back bone and stand up for the story that they are all trying to tell. She’s the sign of nobility and purity during times of war as she knows she’s hardly perfect but she finds away to throw herself into the work and it gives her strength at a time when she sorely needs it. Sam Claflin is great opposite her as a tortured screenwriter having to work under a governmental thumb when he’d much rather be back in a booth at the pub that they found him at in the first place. Both Arterton and Clafin carry the material with ease and develop a relatable chemistry as two people who begrudgingly acknowledge how much they need each other, they are fragile and flawed…and most importantly through their relationship with each other learn to accept it. That’s what makes them such a compelling on screen pair as they find love with one another even if only for one incredibly fleeting moment. Bill Nighy anchors it all as the aging one time star who finds a little humility and genuine humanity in it all bringing all the characters back into the magic of the pictures as he serves as a real source of inspiration for Arterton’s character who finds herself in a fragile place towards the end of the picture.
At the end of the day, Their Finest really is a call to arms for the human spirit for that no matter how bad things can get in the real world, we can never give thoughts of death and despair dominion over our lives as long as we still find ourselves breathing in and out on a daily basis. It’s melancholic but life affirming all at the same time.