Directed by Lone Scherfig
Starring Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Eddie Marsan, Jeremy Irons, Jake Lacy, Jack Huston, & Helen McRory
Film Review by Chris Olson
It's 1940 and Blighty is at war. Whilst the fight goes on overseas, at home the propaganda machine is in overdrive, with the Ministry of Information cranking out a plethora of feature films and instruction movies that are meant to entertain and, more importantly, boost morale. With many of the young men who make up most of the work force away fighting Hitler, roles previously unattainable for women suddenly become vacant. Enter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arteton), a spunky and tenacious writer who finds herself as another cog in the military machine of movie making.
With arguably the most formidable cast to have emerged in one film in 2017 (although this did preview at last year's BFI London and other Film Festivals), it seems introductions would be appropriate. Arterton is joined by Sam Claflin, a fellow scriptwriter with a penchant for being surly yet heartfelt. Bill Nighy plays a flamboyant actor who, like Catrin, has been able to snag a role in showbiz that would have usually gone to a man half his age. His agents agents are played by the always enigmatic Eddie Marsan (complete with matching dog), and his mother Helen McRory (of Peaky Blinders fame). Richard E. Grant plays a ministry type, as does Jeremy Irons, whilst Jake Lacy and Jack Huston play a soldier and an artist respectively. However, doth a great cast a great film make?
In the case of Their Finest, it must be said the ensemble is the most finest. Arterton delivers a passionate and compelling turn as a woman torn between her passion, her country, her partner (Huston), and her supposed 'place' in society. Many of her scenes are layered with pathos, frustration and hope, making for a rounded portrayal. However, it is Claflin in a career-best performance who steals the show. Every part of his nuanced delivery and timing worked perfectly to display a character riddled with complex emotions and biting cynicism. It should also be mentioned that Nighy is on top comedic form, causing many audience members in the screening I attended to burst out laughing at the sheer framing of his face.
There was a lot to digest, thematically, about director Lone Scherfig's film. Social struggles for women are pitted alongside the war effort (including an attempt to entice the U.S. into the conflict), as well as multiple cases of life versus art. Throw into the mixture the nature of truth in storytelling, and one could very well spend a solid afternoon discussing all the merits and connotations of a film like Their Finest.
That being said, the movie fell into gloopy territory on more than one occasion, the sentimentality running away from the filmmakers. This seemed to occur most often when the overbearingly cliched score was given free reign. However, this was more than balanced out with a gritty depiction of London bombings and other scenes that required a more visceral touch.
As a film within a film, the story unfolds with enough richness to remain intriguing throughout. The characters are very well sketched, and when this array of fine acting talent step into the frame, there is nothing left to do but Keep Calm and Carry on Watching.