When did Lone Scherfig become the go-to director for films about Great Britain? And can this be rectified? She certainly sees the beauty of the country’s environment – the historical streets of London, the pastoral landscapes of Cornwall – but aside from surface affectations, her view of British people seems disappointingly two-dimensional. Their Finest is supposed to be a rousing nostalgic wartime flick with a light, meta-textual flavour; but the romance is too syrupy to work, and the humour is closer to Carry On than Day for Night.
Their Finest is a movie about propaganda during World War II; specifically, it’s about the cinema division of the Ministry of Information, where Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) works as a screenwriter. Her job is to write what Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) calls the “slop” – the dialogue between women. But when Ministry official Roger Swain (Richard E Grant) demands an optimistic war film to boost morale, it’s Catrin who gives them the true(ish) story of two girls on a tugboat, who rescued dying soldiers from Dunkirk. This leaves Catrin contending with male egos and technical setbacks to make a feature that – while not a masterpiece – might make a small impact on its audience.
The casting is good. Gemma Arterton is an actress whose career is intrinsically tied with her working-class background; while she has to contend with an odd Welsh accent, she injects the kind of pathos and realism into her proto-feminist worker that last year’s Suffragette desperately needed. The supporting roles are fleshed out by the cream of Britain’s character acting crop, though none make a bigger impression than Bill Nighy as pretentious thespian Ambrose Hilliard. He has the ability to turn even the lamest dialogue into sparkling and witty lines, with something as simple as a well-time eyebrow flick.
It’s not like there isn’t a lot of intelligence behind Their Finest. Both The Best Years of our Lives and A Matter of Life and Death dealt with issues raised here, with the idea of casting a real American soldier in the picture to improve international relations. However, the plot is saddled with an unoriginal romance that clashes with the satire and ends in a ridiculous fashion. Their Finest also feels too long as it constantly pushing past natural conclusions, and in its self-consciously “pretty” look, it sanitises the Blitz. The idea behind the piece is good; if only it didn’t feel the need to overcompensate.
Their Finest is released nationwide on 21st April 2017.
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