Their Finest

 

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An improbable tearjerker chronicles the making of a propaganda tearjerker during the Second World War.

 

Their Finest

Tears for the making: Gemma Arterton

 

The title is an abbreviation of Lissa Evans' 2009 novel Their Finest Hour and a Half. It refers to the length of the wartime motion picture on which our protagonist works. During the Second World War, Britain produced many of its greatest films, including In Which We Serve, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and Perfect Strangers. However, many were also maudlin, formulaic and, to women, quite insulting. Here, our heroine, Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton), finds herself as part of a propaganda initiative to make a stirring war film supposedly based on a true story involving the evacuation of Dunkirk.

 

The 2016 version of her exploits would no doubt have made Catrin Cole cheer. Their Finest is directed by, produced by, scripted by, edited by and composed by women. It’s a shame, then, that too often it comes off as a conspicuous feminist tract. At the start, Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), scriptwriter and employee for the British Ministry of Information, tells Catrin that, obviously, she will be paid less than her male colleagues. In fact, much is spelled out, as if today’s audience was unlikely to catch onto the details. When top dog Roger Swain (Richard E. Grant) welcomes Catrin, he tells her that she’s at the Ministry of Information, Film Division, as if she didn’t already know. Such spoon-feeding might have been forgiven had the film a more urgent sense of time and place. Alas, too many of the backdrops look animated (and poorly, at that), while the film’s dramatic moments are often predictable. It’s as if the director, Denmark’s Lone Scherfig (An Education, One Day), was totally unaware of the clichés of her script, courtesy of the former actress Gaby Chiappe (whose past writing credits include EastEnders, Holby City and Casualty).

 

It’s unclear what the film is trying to achieve. At times its recalls the artificiality of the wartime romance Hanover Street, with Harrison Ford, at others the cosy parochialism of Dad’s Army. Bill Nighy himself, who played Sergeant Wilson in the film version of the latter, swans in as a stereotype of the self-obsessed Actor who, when Catrin first approaches him with the script, autographs it on automatic pilot. In fact, very little rings true, while the post-modern attempts at rectifying the sexual balance seem overtly calculating. Rachael Stirling, as ‘Phyl’ Moore, an arch lesbian, seems a step too far.

 

While an air of melancholy pervades the film, it is also game for a laugh, as well as tragedy. It would also seem to be a tearjerker, but is so contrived that many members of the audience might forget their Kleenex. No doubt there are those who will welcome the film’s nostalgic flourishes, but at best it can serve as an appetizer for Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Dunkirk epic in July.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Helen McCrory, Eddie Marsan, Jake Lacy, Rachael Stirling, Richard E. Grant, Henry Goodman, Paul Ritter, Jeremy Irons, Claudia Jessie, Stephanie Hyam, Clive Russell, Amanda Root.

 

Dir Lone Scherfig, Pro Elizabeth Karlsen, Amanda Posey and Stephen Woolley, Screenplay Gaby Chiappe, Ph Sebastian Blenkov, Pro Des Alice Normington, Ed Lucia Zucchetti, Music Rachel Portman, Costumes Charlotte Walter.

 

BBC Films/Welsh Government/Pinewood Pictures/Ingenious Media/HanWay Films/Wildgaze Films/Number 9 Films/Film i Väst/Filmgate Films/Ripken Productions-Lionsgate.

116 mins. UK. 2016. Rel: 21 April 2017. Cert. 12A.