Advertising copywriter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) thinks she is interviewing for a secretary’s job at the Ministry of Information’s film unit, however they are looking for someone who can articulate the women’s point-of-view for a series of informational short films. The Second World War is raging. It is 1940, not long after the Battle of Dunkirk and Catrin is living in London with her artist husband Ellis (Jack Huston) in the thick of The Blitz. Their first floor flat is basic. It’s what they can afford on the meagre money he makes a painter.
So Catrin’s need for a better job is crucial. She gets it, but is offered two thirds of a man’s wage, which she accepts. Soon she moves from short informationals to working on a feature film about twin sisters who rescued soldiers from Dunkirk. She impresses the unit’s head screenwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin). He believes they will need her talents to write “the slop” which is the dismissive description given to the female dialogue parts of the movie. Catrin’s relationship with her husband is under some strain because he isn’t happy being financially supported by his wife. She finds her new work consuming and is soon drawn into the activity and social scene surrounding the making of a feature film.
THEIR FINEST is the rather truncated title of this picture, whittled down from its source material, Lissa Evan’s 2009 novel Their Finest Hour and a Half. This refers to the average length of a feature film and is an amusing take on Winston Churchill’s famous phrase “their finest hour” referring to the upcoming Battle of Britain.
The film takes us back to the 1940s with top notch production values on what appears to be a small budget. Television writer Gaby Chiappe has adapted Evans’ book and Danish director Lone Scherfig has presented us with something of a love letter to the golden age of British Cinema.The Catrin character is Welsh and based on real-life Diana Morgan, a playwright and screenwriter who worked for Ealing Studios in the 1940s (her actual wartime feature was 1942’s WENT THE DAY WELL). Henry Goodman plays an Alexander Korda type producer. The film takes us into cinemas on more than one occassion and celebrates that bygone era of continuous programs showing newsreels, cartoons and double-bills.
Lone Scherfig has numerous movie credits. Her best known films in English are AN EDUCATION (2009), ONE DAY (2011) and THE RIOT CLUB (2014). She succeeds in creating a warm and funny ambience for what is essentially a lightweight comedy drama set in a historically momentous time. The performances are of the calibre one expects of this cast, Helen McRory, Eddie Marsan, Richard E. Grant and Jeremy Irons all do their bit for the movie as their characters do their bit for the war. Bill Nighy is, as is often the case, the most valuable player. He steals many of his scenes with a brilliantly comedic turn as an ageing, narcissistic actor called Ambrose Hilliard. His scenes are comic relief and then from seemingly nowhere, you find yourself moved by a line, a gesture or an expression. Nighy is a British national treasure whom we all have the good fortune to experience.
Arterton is on record as saying the first few years of her career were marked with projects she thought she should do, rather than ones that ended up as satisfying experiences for her and an audience. Lately, she has been producing films and choosing roles with greater care. Arterton’s Catrin is a restrained character who is guarded in her opinions of others. Her loyalty is not easily won. She also has a core of determination that sees her progress through the competitive world of movie making. This is one of her more rounded characters and she anchors this production beautifully.
THEIR FINEST is an amusing diversion which some will find too cosily sentimental but will nonetheless entertain most audiences. 117 minutes. (7/10)