WWII, filmmaking, propaganda, and emerging women--Their Finest is fine.
Director: Lone Scherfig (An Education)
Screenplay: Gaby Chiappe, based on Lissa Evans novel, Their
Finest Hour and a Half
Cast: Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace), Bill Nighy (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)
Runtime: 1 hr 57 min
by John DeSando
“They're afraid they won't be able to put us back in the box when this is over, and it makes them belligerent.” Phyl Moore (Rachael Stirling)
Phyl is spot on about the focus of Their Finest, a period piece (1940) about the British film industry’s part in supporting WWII. The heart of this sometimes comic romance is Catrin’s (Gemma Arterton) emergence from secretary to writer in a time when women were expected to be no more than secretaries. Of course, they would no more be “in the box” after the war.
Comic moments are plentiful, especially when aging actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy at his best) is on screen. He is in a company producing a propaganda film to support the war and perhaps induce the USA to enter the war. Although seeing the inventive ways the industry created special effects and worked through themes would be a reason for a cinephile to go to this film, the higher takeaway is the growing empowerment of Catrin, and all women, not just in Britain but everywhere.
She has a growing affection for fellow writer Ellis (Jack Huston—Yes, that Huston grandson), slow and so British reserved that it is one of the best romances of the year. Although I have reservations about a woman needing a man to be successful, this romance is authentic because it grows like ripening fruit, no passion or flowery bombast to speed it along.
Beyond the romance and the mechanics of early filmmaking, the art of writing is satisfactorily treated, in fact one of the first times I have seen it depicted as a communal effort. Besides, I love seeing ideas and dialogue worked out among the team without overly-dramatic flourishes but rather with the kind of quiet discovery that may have occurred with any successful team effort.
Their Finest is part old-fashioned filmmaking with sentiment and sense overlaid by a progressive theme showing the ascendency of women in WWII beyond “Rosie the Riveter.” You’ll cry a little, you’ll laugh a little, and you’ll nod your head a little in admiration of the contributions made in big wars by this marvelous art form, film.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com