A British film crew attempts to boost morale during World War II by making a propaganda film after the Blitzkrieg.
British humor tends to be witty and piercing, just the vehicle to drive most plots to the finish line of success. “Their Finest” is a perfect example of the dry humor necessary for British motion pictures. Gemma Arterton stars as Catrin Cole, but her soft-spoken character is too understated to drive the film forward. The real stars of this comedy are Sam Claflin and Bill Nighy. Sam plays Tom Buckley, the slightly sexist scriptwriter who takes Catrin under his wing. His mannerisms alone are so authentic that his role spurs Catrin’s too understated character forward in the right direction. Bill Nighy is the heart of the movie, as both actor Ambrose Hilliard and Uncle Frank, any time he is on screen is a highlight.
Catrin moves to war-torn London from Wales along with hubby Ellis Cole, a painter starving for his art. Determined to help with the bills, Catrin interviews for a writing position in the Ministry of Information’s film department. The Ministry hopes to appeal to women viewers by bringing in a woman’s point of view in a male-centric industry. Catrin begins by dubbing in women’s lines or the “slop” the men have no interest in writing. Tom Buckley is assigned to write a script to boost morale, and he chooses Catrin as the scripts feminine voice. Her first assignment is to help find some true women heroes to loosely base the script on, which she does: a set of thirty-something twins Rose and Lily whose boat was accidentally useful in aiding soldiers. With the plot formed, the script moves on to casting.
Twins are quickly selected, along with a hero, but casting Uncle Frank becomes a bit of a chore until ego-maniac Ambrose Hilliard agrees to play the less than fulfilling role. The Ministry then decides boosting morale is not enough mission for the film and they decide to add in a blond haired, blue eyed, hunk to beef up the script, despite the actor’s inability to act. Ambrose is forced to mentor the American kid while Catrin endears herself to Ambrose by stroking his ego and tailoring the script to his ability. The audience is privy to bits and pieces of the movie mingled with real life, starring uncle Frank of course.
Meanwhile, the war tears down building and destroys streets sending Londoners fleeing to the underground tube stations to avoid dying in the raids. Catrin repeatedly tries to force Ellis to not give up on his art or her. When he finally lands a gig in an art exhibition away from London, he expects Catrin to give up her women’s work to follow him instead of monitoring the filming of her movie. Working so closely with Buckley, Catrin finds herself quite chummy with him and his feelings for her become evident to Ministry assistant Phyl (played by Rachel Stirling) and everyone else on set. Sharing secrets with Phyl helps Catrin to cope with turbulent relationship with husband Ellis. When the loss of her apartment and a friend pull Catrin down into depression, only the love of her new friends can pull her out in time to see the dramatic response to her writing.
The plot does not manage to feel original despite no motion picture similar to “Their Finest.” The sheer amount of WWII movies available makes this one seem forced, but only with a specific purpose of highlighting women in the war. Writer Lone Scherfig along with directors Gaby Chiappe and Lissa Evans, take an exhausted topic to create a winning romance and a fresh point of view. Undertones of the sexist behavior, common in the 1940s, allows the movie to show women becoming empowered. This aspect felt a bit contrived towards the feminist movement in current events, but the characters and writing kept the feminist mission from becoming overpowering.
The ingenious humor and stellar acting, along with a winding plot, create a classic for everyone to enjoy. The war is very present while not the focus. Detailed scenes show the damage caused and the lives lost without becoming too graphic and stealing the lighthearted tone. Each backdrop is a vision for the eyes; no detail spared to keep in the timeframe of the war, along with the very British obsession with tea and dogs. Pokes at the American actor highlight the British public view of Americans in a comically insulting way sure to provoke laughs and not tempers. A surprise twist at the end will leave you breathless, uncharacteristic to American style. Only one mild scene led to the R rating which feels out of place for this movie, although children would not find this movie quite as endearing as adults. Keep the kids home when you head to the theater to see this soon to be classic.
In theaters Friday, April 14th