Their Finest Review
Authenticity and optimism.
That is the brief given to the filmmakers at the height of the Blitz in order to rouse the country during their darkest time. Recruited to this is writer Catrin (Gemma Arterton), recently hired by the Ministry of Information to bring a “female touch” to the stale wartime information films. Together with the abrasive Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) she attempts to write a film based on the evacuation of Dunkirk that will help the public morale whilst dealing with the complications of government, the constant danger of bombing, and the trouble of dealing with bristly actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy). The words “authenticity and optimism” almost acts as a brief for Their Finest itself, coming out in a day and age of political and social turmoil and based on a true story; in the case of Their Finest the work of Welsh playwright and screenwriter Diana Morgan, much of whose wartime work was uncredited but who was involved in writing the hugely successful movie Went the Day Well, in which a group of plucky villagers fend off a German invasion. It’s this lovely echoing back of fiction and reality that works really well, bringing a smile to your face both from humour and that famous British sense of determination.
There is just so much to like in this film. Fans of filmmaking will find a lot to enjoy here. The cast are, unsurprisingly, great. Gemma Arterton continues to be one of the best working British female leads today, Sam Claflin is solid, and has there ever been a time when Bill Nighy wasn’t utterly likeable? Besides the film where he had a squid face, I mean. Round it all out with really strong supporting performances from Rachael Stirling, playing the writing group’s unabashed trouser wearing lesbian boss who points out to Catrin a refusal to return to the neat boxes for women after the war is over, Eddie Marsan, Richard E. Grant, and a one scene wonder from Jeremy Irons, and you’ve got a small but fierce group of onscreen talent. The humour is played in this place that’s wry but with an edge of almost tragedy. This is, after all, taking place during the height of The Blitz. There are things that you will see coming twelve miles away without the use of binoculars, but you find yourself forgiving it because of the well of charm that the movie has at its centre.
You want the film to succeed, you want this group to make something great because even if it’s not one movie that will win the war, it’s something that will make things a little bit more bearable for some people. And this is the central point of Their Finest for both its characters and its audience: the healing power of movies. As Claflin’s Buckley puts it, movies make sense; even when terrible things are happening there is always structure and a reason for it unlike the mess and pain of the real world. It allows you to process things in a environment that is completely controlled, and also lets you escape from some of the harder things in life, if only for a little while.
That is something that I think all of us need at times.
Their Finest is an excellently made and entertaining comedy that has some real layers to it.