With its huge catalogue of self-reflexives productions and behind-the-scene musicals, Hollywood could always be relied upon to add to its own legend and mystique. On the other hand, the British film industry has forever shied away from making a song and dance about its own history. Bar a few examples, there’s been little interest in dramas chartering the British film industry’s formative years, and even less in shining a light on the industry’s prolific body of work during WWII. But fear not, because lo and behold, Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest is here to save the day. This beautifully acted and brilliantly written film set in London during the Blitz is a charming and compelling slice of contemporary cinema.
Adapted by Gaby Chiappe from a novel by Lissa Evans, the film tells the story of those left behind after the majority of men of fighting-age were drafted to fight the Nazis. Centring around the propaganda bureau and its association with the UK film industry during WWII, Their Finest is a wonderful account of how women became a vital part of that industry in the absence of their male counterparts.
Gemma Arterton is Catrin, a seemingly happily married lowly copywriter who is roped in by the Ministry of War to write the female parts for some of their less than subtle propaganda films. Catrin soon becomes a dab hand at writing what the men in her industry refer to as “slop”, meaning all the female dialogue which had until now been written by male screenwriters and received with derision by savvy cinema-goers. Sent to scope out a real life story about the bravery of twin sisters who set out to sea in their father’s fishing boat to help bring back stranded soldiers from Dunkirk, Catrin suddenly finds herself in charge of writing the female parts in a heroic feature film about this unlikely adventure.
Also staring alongside the excellent Arterton is Sam Claflin (Me Before you), a charming, yet taciturn screenwriter and Catrin’s love interest Buckley. The two find themselves in a battle of wills told in a fairly classic narrative arc of meet-cute, falling out, then finally falling for each other. However predictable one might find this idea, it is important to point out that the film is about so much more than just the love affair. With a fantastic performance courtesy of Bill Nighy, as an ageing actor getting a second chance to shine due to the drafting of his youngest counterparts, Their Finest is a wonderfully aware piece of filmmaking. Not only does it offer a chance to delve into a forgotten part of recent history, but it is also packed full of charm, humour and sometimes gut-wrenching despair.
Their Finest doesn’t just follow in the long tradition of epic British period pieces, but it also brings to the forefront the age old question of gender parity in the work place. WWII didn’t just bring horror and devastation to millions around the world, but as a result of it, women found themselves in jobs they had only ever dreamt of. Director Lone Scherfig offers a wonderfully nuanced and touching account aided by a truly accomplished cast and a fantastically realist dialogue. At over two hours, the film might seem a little on the long side to some, but this in no way affects the outcome of this thoroughly enjoyable production. A true breath of fresh which will devastate as well as delight.
Their Finest is released on April 21st