It’s 1940’s London, when air raid sirens go off too often, too many boys go off to war never to return, and women going off to work is expected, but not appreciated.
Into that man’s world walks Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) who flaunts the convention of the day by only living with her artistic beau Ellis (Jack Huston), a painter who’s struggling in the wartime economy. So whether he likes it or not, she’s off to work as a secretary (she thinks), but instead lands a job writing the “women’s dialogue” for propaganda pics churned out by the Ministry of War, Film Division.
An array of wonderful characters populate the Division, so much so you may have multiple favorites. But at least two stand out: the overly obvious new possible love interest and fellow writer Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), and nearly has-been actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy). Cole is assigned to work with both of them on a new film designed to be both authentic and optimistic; meant to lift the spirits of the beleaguered after the Blitzkrieg. This project creates a film within the film, with one mirroring the other.
“Their Finest” is as much a depiction of what women deal with in the work place as it is a sassy indictment of the creative process behind any such filmmaking endeavor. Of course, it’s also a love story, and the one between Cole and Buckley is a little underdeveloped and sudden, while other, side elements seem long in the tooth. But the dialogue is so enjoyable throughout you may not notice film’s nearly two-hour length. It certainly helps to have a complimentary score to listen to that sometimes leads the way, but never competes for space, and a wealth of talent to watch onscreen.
In Ambrose Hilliard, Nighy once again plays a self-centered older actor, looking for that one part to put him back on the map. But he’s so good at it he practically walks away with the film, with some of his best lines being improvised (so director Lone Scherfig of “An Education” tells me).
No less brilliant (but maybe not as much fun to watch) is Sam Claflin as too-smart-for-his-own-good writer Buckley. He also has some great lines (as do most characters really, coming so rapid-fire you’ll have to pay attention), and his chemistry with Arterton is palpable. Meanwhile Arterton herself shines as Catrin Cole, her every thought unabashedly on display. Although other characters are central to the film, this is her story, and one we are more than happy to witness through her eyes.
There are some melodramatic turns in the third act that seem a bit much, but there also may not be a dry eye in the house by the time the credits roll. I’m of the opinion that Scherfig and her fellow filmmakers certainly put their finest onscreen.
Director: Lone Scherfig
Writers: Gaby Chiappe (screenplay), Lissa Evans (novel)
Stars: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy
written by: Richard Bonaduce
Photos provided by Sundance Film Festival