Film Review: Their Finest (2016)

“He is an actor. Unless you have reviewed him, had intercourse with him, or done both simultaneously, he won’t remember you”

With Gemma Arterton doing a Welsh accent and some wistful crying, Rachael Stirling as a fearsome, elegant-trouser-wearing lesbian with a fabulous line in repartee, Bill Nighy being Bill Nighy, and the subject being women working in wartime, Their Finest is pretty much tailor-made for my interests, it even has bonus Helen McCrory in it for God’s sake! But even without all that box-ticking, it is a gently, most enjoyable film.

Adapted by Gaby Chiappe from Lissa Evans’s novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, and directed by Lone Scherfig, the story follows a British Ministry of Information film team making a morale-boosting film about the Dunkirk evacuation during the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz. So it’s a film about making films, the romance and realities of the business, with the added spin of it being set in wartime.

So Arterton’s Catrin is co-opted into the war effort for the dismissive task of writing ‘slop’ aka women’s dialogue but finds the opportunity to prove herself when a new film commission comes in. And Nighy’s Ambrose Hilliard is an actor past his prime, finding unexpected chances to resurrect his career. And between them, in their vastly contrasting ways, they each deliver highly engaging performances.

Catrin is caught between her ne’erdowell artist husband Ellis (Jack Huston) and Tom (Sam Claflin) her new script-writing colleague with whom a love-hate relationship develops on location, Arterton’s instinctive restraint really deepening our understanding of the situations women found themselves in at this time. And Nighy finds pathos, as well as scene-stealing delight, in an actor struggling to come to terms with his shifting place in the industry, sharing some powerful scenes with Eddie Marsan’s agent and the glorious McCrory as his sister. 

It’s a British film so of course it is bittersweet, but in the best possible way, the emotional beats of the finale are earned and exemplary, and so I ‘m definitely recommending a trip to the cinema to see this.

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