I loved Their Finest when I saw it back in April. After seeing it again at the DVD launch yesterday (held at the Imperial War Museum which was an absolute treat) I can now modify my initial reaction – I really love Their Finest. In fact I’m near certain it will appear in my top five films of 2017.
Set in London in 1940 the film follows Catrin Cole (Aderton) as she becomes part of the film division at the ministry of information her task is to write the ‘slop’ – a.k.a the script dialogue that is geared towards the female audience. She soon gets involved in their latest project, a film told with ‘authenticity and optimism’ to inspire the nation – a ‘based-on-a-true-story’ about twin sisters who sailed a boat as part of the Dunkirk invasion. Writing alongside Buckley (Claflin) and Parfitt (Ritter) she quickly realises just how important their film, ‘The Nancy Starling’, could be in helping national morale.
There’s so much to love about Their Finest, it’s the not knowing where to start that’s a problem! The most obvious starting point would be the cast. Arterton, who is one of this country’s most underrated actresses, provides a truly captivating central performance. Armed with a very authentic-sounding Welsh accent she so engaging to watch as she negotiates literal battles taking place in the world around her and the metaphorical ones that take place at work. Her performance reminded me somewhat of Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn (2015), both characters are transported into new worlds with both actresses able to show the smorgasbord of emotions such turmoil can bring with simply with a single look or expression. The war gave women the chance to enter the workforce to an extent that had never been seen before, although she may have somewhat unexpectedly fallen into her new role she relishes it wholeheartedly.
On a similar note, my favourite supporting cast has to be Phyl Moore (Stirling) who manages to make entire punchlines with just the arching of an eyebrow. Her costuming is envy-inducing, a tailored and masculine look that contrasts with Catrin’s knitwear and skirts. Then there’s the fact she gets some of the best lines – her interactions with American RAF pilot Carl Lundbeck (Lacy) are brief but oh-so-funny. In fact, should you be wondering, he’s my second favourite member of the supporting cast. When cast due to add to the film’s American appeal, and the fact his heroic deeds in battle have built him quite a reputation, the Ministry of Information – in the form of a scene-stealing Jeremy Irons – didn’t actually check if he could act. This leads to the level of bad acting that is as memorable as Lina Lamont (Jean Hagan) in Singin In The Rain.
It’d also be amiss to not talk about Claflin and Nighy’s respective performances. Claflin as Buckley has the level of crouchy charm that will earn him even more devoted fans (who may just want him to refer to them as ‘mustard’…) he’s well established as a throwback to simillar characters of 1940s British Cinema – a prickly, intellectual exterior protecting a caring centre. First time round I didn’t fully appreciate Nighy’s performance. Second time round, I get it. He’s charming and delightful, every line delivered with a twinkle, and his progression as a character is so warming to witness.
As is practically everything about the film. It seamlessly tells many tales that are interwoven by the war with a story that even 70 years later manages to have so much relevancy. One line in particular hauntingly resonated with me upon second watching –
‘When life is so very precarious, it seems an awful shame to waste it.’
Their Finest is available now on VOD and on DVD & Blu-Ray from Monday 21st August.
Dir: Lone Scherfig
Scr: Gaby Chiappe
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Paul Ritter, Rachael Stirling, Richard E. Grant, Henry Goodman, Jake Lacy, Jeremy Irons, Eddie Marsan, Helen McCrory.
Prd: Stephen Woolley, Amanda Posey, Finola Dwyer.
DOP: Sebastian Blenkov
Music: Rachel Portman
Run time: 117 minutes