The British propaganda movies of the Second World War actually produced some bonafide classics –Powell and Pressburger’s masterpiece The Life and Death Of Colonel Blimp and David Lean and Noel Coward’s In Which We Serve to name but a few.
The fictional movie that forms the backdrop to Their Finest isn’t in the same class, but the making of it provides plenty of fun – along with a few moments of pathos – in this handsomely mounted comedy drama.
Gemma Arterton plays Catrin Cole, a copywriter at the Ministry of Information’s film division, who lands a screenwriting job to provide a bit of female perspective (“the slop” as it is described to her) for an upcoming movie supposedly based on the true story of two sisters who took their father’s fishing boat to Dunkirk to rescue British soldiers stranded on the beach (she soon discovers that the girls didn’t actually make it to France, but she keeps quiet about that).
That turns out to be the least of her problems: pompous actor Ambrose Hilliard (Billy Nighy) is acting up because he has been cast as the girls’ drunken dad rather than the leading man, while in a bid to encourage Americans to join the fight against the Nazis, the ministry decides to cast heroic US pilot Carl Lundbeck (Jake Lacy) in a leading role – only to discover that he can’t act to save his life. There are also complications on the homefront, too, with Catrin finding herself falling for her cynical but charming co-writer Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), even though she is (technically) married to a struggling painter (Jack Huston).
As with director Lone Scherfig’s breakthrough film An Education, Their Finest boasts an appealingly feisty female lead in Arterton and a sure sense of period detail; her only stumbles come with some occasionally awkward segues into melodrama. However, a wonderfully fruity turn from Nighy and an accomplished ensemble of supporting players – Richard E Grant, Rachael Sterling, Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irons – help paper over the odd misteps in the script.
In cinemas: April 20, 2017
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Richard E Grant
Directed by: Lone Scherfig