World War II. A stiff upper lip in the face of the Blitz. Bill Nighy. Middle-aged audiences crave these things. Their Finest combines all of these things, plus plucky young women and professional lesbians, into a heartwarming 117 minutes, with just enough forced melodrama to tug the heartstrings.
London, 1940. Copywriter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton, Orphan) is enlisted by the government to write female dialogue for government propaganda. Sent to work with writing duo Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin, Me Before You) and Raymond Parfitt (Paul Ritter, TV’s No Offence), they travel to the countryside to shoot a loosely truthful, but more importantly inspirational, film with washed-up character actor Ambrose Hilliard (Nighy, Dad’s Army).
Adapted from Lissa Evans’ Their Finest Hour and a Half, Their Finest often reads as a film that had more depth to it on the page. Scenes of emotional resonance feel like they were earned off-screen, but what has made it to the screen frequently works. A lot of that comes down to Arterton, an ingenue who always impresses, and who has chemistry with the entire cast. Nighy, incapable of phoning in a performance, is charming and gets a character arc that forms a parallel backbone to the film without treading on Arterton’s.
Their Finest‘s greatest weakness is that it relies on its pleasantness for so long that when it comes time for a dramatic development, it feels arbitrary at best and grossly manipulative at worst. It rallies in time for its conclusion, but writer Gaby Chiappe (The Level) and director Lone Scherfig (The Astronaut Wives Club) don’t quite have the finesse to mix their bitter moments with the more welcome treacle of the remainder of the film.
What confounds about Their Finest is that we’ve rightfully been conditioned over the years to reject propaganda (although Clint Eastwood and Michael Bay have recently tipped their hands at it to greater or lesser success), but Their Finest tells us that it’s okay if “we” do it. As a meditation on the emotionally manipulative nature of cinema, Their Finest tells us that it is a thing that movies are capable of; perhaps it’s not ironic that Scherfig is incapable of masking that in her own work.
Their Finest is an unchallenging film that is imperfectly made. The seams are visible at almost all times, but this patchwork isn’t offensive, and the cast are more than capable of holding up their end of the bargain. Their Finest is not the kind of film on which wars are won, but it is exactly what a key demographic loves at the Australian box office. A calculated crowd-pleaser.
Their Finest opened in Australian cinemas on April 20, 2017.
Directed by: Lone Scherfig.
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Helen McCrory and Paul Ritter.