An unusual and eminently satisfying story harking back to Britain during World War II, “Their Finest,” smoothly directed by Lone Scherfig and based on Lissa Evans’s novel “Their Finest Hour and a Half,” is graced by fine performances and a situation markedly different from most war films. With a screenplay by Gaby Chiappe, the story concerns the making of propaganda movies to lift British spirits by the British Ministry of Information’s Film Division and the crew goes on location in Devon.
Gemma Arterton, who gave such an appealing performance in the French “Gemma Bovery,” is marvelous as Catrin Cole, who lands a screenwriting job and is put to work on a film glorifying heroism by rescuers of troops at Dunkirk. She labors closely with Sam Claflin as Tom Buckley, also charged with churning out scripts. Tom, very much on the shy side, Is growing infatuated with Catrin, who is married to an artist husband, who doesn’t think much of what she is doing.
Arterton gives Catrin plenty of charm along with her sense of purpose, and that helps capture the we-will-not-be-beaten resolve in the UK. The film also gains immeasurably from the performance by Bill Nighy as Ambrose Hilliard, a self-centered, but fading actor who gives everyone a pain. Scripts never offer what he considers lines worthy of him. However, Catrin has the knack of breaking through and calming him down. Nighy is hilarious in his hauteur, and if you know his work, you know how good he can be in such a part. One also finds plenty to chuckle about over the corny efforts of the government filmmakers to be inspirational.
The balance between the humor found in the day-to-day work and lurking tragedy is handled extremely well, and the portrait of how important it is to carry on despite all that can happen on the home front in wartime becomes both heartbreaking and uplifting. There is also particular attention paid to capturing the look and ambiance of the period. Within is a solid portrait of a woman coming into her own despite the obstacles she faces. Extreme credit is due Arterton.
The content, acting and tone of “Their Finest” make this one of my favorite films at the Festival, as well as a wartime movie that has special resonance. Posted September 30, 2016.