Gail Adcock reviews Their Finest (12A), starring Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy
The trailer for Their Finest suggests a cosy, rose-tinted cinematic experience - one that when the DVD is released will sit neatly alongside last year's new version of Dad's Army. However for all its pretty Devonshire countryside scenes, the promo truly doesn't do justice to the immaculately crafted and beautiful gem of a movie this is. It is adapted from Lissa Evans’s novel and directed by Lone ‘An Education’ Sherfig with an eye for capturing the individual and collective experiences with warmth, humour and an eye for detail.
The film tells the story of copy writer Catrin Cole, who is scriptwriting alongside Tom Buckley (Sam Clafin) for a propaganda film about the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk, France, in 1940. It powerfully conveys the horror of the blitz, the daily striving to maintain normal every day life in the midst of great threat and harrowing events. Via a clever 'film-within-a-film' plot device, the movie slips by effortlessly, with the propaganda film neatly mirroring the unfolding shifts in the lives and events of the real life writers, actors and war staff.
The performances are great with Gemma Arterton asserting her presence in every scene, bringing warmth, a quiet determination and courage to her role as Catrin. Bill Nighy, predictably perhaps, steals the majority of the comedic moments as the vain Ambrose Hilliard, an actor past the peak of his career, desperate to shore up his fame for as long as possible on the strength of a much earlier role as Inspector Carnforth.
A recurring theme highlights the role of women during these war years and the inherent sexism encountered on a regular basis. Their Finest recognises the vital contribution made to the war effort by millions of women. At numerous points the question is posed - will the women be willing to go 'back in their boxes' once the war is over and it's abundantly clear they have absolutely no intention of doing so? Through opting to tell this story from the perspective of Cole, an oft missed dimension to the world war movie narrative is reclaimed and given a new lease of life.
On completion of a draft script for the propaganda film Buckley comments to Cole that it's too long, saying "Lose half", "Which half?" she asks. "The half that you don't need" is his answer - thankfully the script for 'Their Finest' kept the very best bits. It's is a pleasure to behold, melding heart and substance, delivering a mighty fine hour or two of superb comedy drama packed full of charm.