London, 1940. Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is called to the Ministry of Information and employed to work on wartime propaganda films. Struggling to survive and support her painter husband, Ellis (Jack Huston), Catrin accepts and is soon engaged an a major morale boosting movie, based on newspaper reports of two young women who steal their father’s boat and join the flotilla to Dunkirk, rescuing retreating soldiers.
Catrin is dispatched to interview Lily and Rose Starling about their ordeal only to discover most of their story was fabricated by the press. Undeterred Catrin presents their story as fact and the scriptwriters are given the green light to proceed. Catrin is faced with the belligerence of fellow scribe Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) with whom there is a spark of attraction. Much of what follows is fairly predictable – the on, off relationship with Tom, her imploding relationship with Ellis and the eventual success of ‘The Nancy Starling’.
The beauty of Lone Scherfig’s film is that issues around patriarchy are understated. Discrimination is subtly highlighted. When interviewed Catrin is offhandedly informed by Roger Swain (Richard E Grant) “Obviously we can’t pay you as much as the chaps.” On set Hilliard mistakes Catlin for an autograph hunter while colleague Tom informs her she is to write the ‘slop’, the women’s dialogue, implying this is less important that the men’s dialogue. Women have to be kept in their place, a fact made implicit by Phyl Moore (Rachael Stirling), the dominant PA openly identified as lesbian, who tells Catrin “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 appears perfectly relaxed in displaying her sexuality and while lesbianism is mentioned several times in the movie gay men are surprisingly absent from this creative endeavour.
Lucy Bevan deserves mention for assembling a stellar cast. Gemma Arterton is perfectly cast as wide-eyed ingenue Catrin Cole and her bristling chemistry with Sam Claflin, whose cynicism as lead writer shines through, is evident in their scenes together. Bill Nighy’s Ambrose Hilliard, a washed up thespian with the delusion he is still a matinee idol, steals every scene he is in even when pouting in the background. Scriptwriter Gaby Chiappe gives Nighy some of the movies best lines which he delivers effortlessly. The wonderful Richard E Grant, Jeremy Irons, Eddie Marsden and Helen McCrory liven up proceedings either as belligerent officials or Hilliard’s agents.
Their Finest, based on the novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans, smoothly combines comedy and wartime drama. A finely acted, funny feel-good movie that illustrates the spirit of war time Britain.