It’s 1940 and bombs are dropping on London. Catrin (Gemma Arterton) is a young Welsh woman who’s run away to the Capital with her artist lover. As a result, Catrin finds herself in need of a job, despite it being the middle of the Blitz. She unexpectedly finds work as a writer for a film company, which has been asked by the Ministry Of Information to make a movie that will help support the British war effort.
Catrin soon discovers that she’s still living in a man’s world, having to fight for respect from her colleague, Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), and pretty much everyone else around her. After all, in Tom’s words she’s just there for the ‘slop’ – aka the female dialogue.
However, as the Ministry takes an increasing interest in their film about two women who went out to Dunkirk in a little boat to try and rescue a soldier, she becomes increasingly important to the process. That includes to washed-up actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), who starts to think Catrin is the only person who takes him and his character seriously. But while she begins to find professional success, she starts to have a few romantic issues, and must also face she’s still in the middle of greatest War the world has ever known.
Their Finest is a sweet movie, with plenty of charm, wit in its script and a desire that the audience should have a good time. It isn’t a complete success though, partly because it feels like it’s trapped between a desire to mimic the sort of 1940s movies it’s about, and being a modern movie looking back and commenting on them with a wry wink.
As a result, it never fully finds its own voice, instead attempting to be many things – history lesson, romance, drama, comedy and slightly old-fashioned war movie – but not quite working out how to make all those things fully come together into a truly cohesive whole. It’s not too much of a problem though, even if some might feel the whole thing has been toned down a little too far compared to the reality of what it’s talking about. In many ways it’s just taking on the lessons of the 1940s war movies it’s about, but it doesn’t quite fit with the fact in most other respects it has a far more modern viewpoint.
That uncertain mix even includes having a lesbian character who isn’t hiding her sexuality, but it’s still a rather old-fashioned nudge-nudge, wink-wink way it’s dealt with. As a result it manages to feel both progressive and prehistoric simultaneously in this respect – which is an odd achievment in itself.
Likewise, some will find the ending far too melodramatic, even compared to what’s gone before. It’s done in a rather Golden Age Of Cinema, and it does have an emotional impact, but nowadays it also feels a little over the top and as if it’s unnecessarily come out of left field.
However, it’s still entertaining and fans of cinema will enjoy its rose-tinted look back at the British Film Industry’s attempts to support the War effort and to keep the British public’s morale high. Gemma Arterton is also great in the central role of a woman who isn’t initially aware of quite how smart and talented she is, largely because the world around her is built around making women seem smaller than they are. Arterton is surrounded by some good support, including a charming Sam Claflin as her antagonist turned love interest, and Bill Nighy having great fun as a self-obsessed actor.
There may be a sense that if it hadn’t played it quite so safe Their Finest this could have been more than it is, but it’s still an enjoyable watch.
Overall Verdict: It may not be sure if it’s a modern film looking back on war cinema, or a story told in the style of a 1940s film, but thanks to its wit and a good cast, Their Finest is still a charming film.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac