Director Lone Scherfig’s previous films in Scandinavia (Italian For Beginners) and the UK (Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself, An Education, One Day) have been character dramas of all sorts, but Their Finest is her most comedic effort, even if the humour is often moving and melancholy.
In 1940, a Welsh copywriter named Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton with a convincing accent) is called by the government to work in the film industry. It’s assumed that she can write dialogue for women, and head of the department Roger Swain (Richard E. Grant) wants to make a propaganda pic that will convince the Yanks to enter the war. London is in tatters during the Blitz and most of the keep-the-home-fires-burning films to this point have been awful (the one we glimpse is a hoot). It’s hoped that Catrin can create a stirring script with assistance from initially boorish screenwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin).
We know that Catrin is living with (but not quite married to) troublemaking artist Ellis (Jack Huston) but we’ve also seen this story before many times. If you can’t pick the fact that Catrin will fall for Tom and that Tom will stop behaving like a pompous dimwit and see her for how brilliant she truly is, then you obviously haven’t seen a movie before.
The increasingly fictionalised epic they collaborate upon is put into production while Bill Nighy (who else?) excels as Ambrose Hilliard, a fading ham star trying to keep his dignity, despite being cast as drunken Uncle Frank and as bombs fall around him. It’s one of Nighy’s funniest roles, but he’s also allowed some gorgeously understated scenes of quietly powerful emotion, and while he’s joked good-naturedly off-screen about how offended he was at being asked to portray an ageing over-actor, you really couldn’t think of anyone else playing the part so splendidly.
An ambitious charmer drawn by Gaby Chiappe from Lissa Evans’ novel Their Finest Hour And A Half, this has a fine performance by Arterton (who really should be a big name in Hollywood by now), some terrific on-set humour and a bold final act that doesn’t quite go the way expected and could possibly alienate some of this one’s target audience. But what did they expect? There’s a war on, you know.
Rated M. Their Finest is in cinemas now