On paper, Their Finest sounds distinctly light-hearted: Catrin (Gemma Arterton) is a Welsh writer with a moody Communist artist husband who moves to London and finds herself working as a writer in a film studio producing war propaganda for the Ministry of Information. But if the mix-up sounds like it could be straight out of an Ealing comedy—one which, incidentally, could have been made in the very same studio—things soon turn serious, as the propaganda effort demands a successful film to persuade American opinion that their help is needed in the War.
Day to day, Catrin experiences galling sexism from her co-writers and employers; Their Finest, directed by Lone Scherfig, a Danish woman, is as much about women as it is about war. Scherfig is a master at drawing out a romantic scene and then having a male character put his foot in it and equally of dangling resolution in front of her audience only to snatch it away. Often, it seems true happiness and fulfilment is just within Catrin’s grasp before it cruelly eludes her.
Sympathy comes from the cast. Gemma Arterton is revelatory as Catrin, equal parts strength and naivety, whilst Sam Claflin—who was in Scherfig’s 2013 film The Riot Club and seems to be rapidly establishing himself as the next Jude Law—plays her cynical-but-secretly-principled colleague Buckley. Bill Nighy adds a light comic touch, and is a welcome foil for some of Their Finest’s occasional mawkish moments.
Despite being based on Lissa Evan’s novel, Their Finest Hour and a Half, this is a film about film; more specifically, it’s a film about a woman making her way in the film industry, which must, naturally, be a subject close to Scherfig’s heart. Thirty million people visited the cinema every week in the 1940s, and Their Finest is caught up in a deep nostalgia for the era. Filmmakers love making films about “the power of cinema”, and Scherfig does sometimes stray into moments of make-do-and-mend sentimentality. Ultimately, though, Their Finest gets away with it through sheer charm and subverted expectations. In wartime, things don’t always turn out as they should.—Thomas Barrie
Their Finest is released on April 7; @theirfinest
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