Based on the novel by Lissa Evans, with the screenplay by Gaby Chiappe, Their Finest Hour is set in 1940’s London in the Blitz where the Ministry of Information are controlling the industry and looking to build morale with the right picture for the masses. Looking for an insightful female perspective, they hire inexperienced screenwriter Catrin Cole, played by Gemma Arterton, alongside a hauled-together cast and crew to make something that really gets noticed.
While Their Finest is on the outside a film-within-a-film, and sometimes reasonably romanticised, it’s also an affectionate and honestly good-hearted picture that delves back to the golden age of cinema after the war, where a small team from the Ministry of Information (Film division) were trying to be both ‘authentic and positive’ and put across a message to those cinema goers feeling fearful during the war. The idea was to offer films that would help rally the people back home, to offer them hope in a time where London, and the UK, was still being bombed. In return, optimistic movies could be the catalyst to put people into action and even help them offer words of encouragement to everyone.
Directed by Lone Scherfig, who was behind the excellent An Education and also novel adaptation One Day, she offers an old-fashioned palette throughout that evokes the era in both its specific style, but also never forgets to highlight the true, and deadly, dangers of a time when death was a very real threat every day.
But Their Finest is all about the characters and it is Gemma Arterton’s Katrina who leads the way throughout. She gives a sublime, down-to-earth and resilient performance as Catrina Cole, a Welsh woman who’s moved to London with her artist husband, a man who couldn’t go to war due to injury. Arterton’s Cole is strong-minded and wants to work, she ends up getting a job at the Ministry of Information (Film Division) because they’re looking for female input into the messages, or propaganda, that the UK government are putting out to those on the homeland. While the links of how she gets the job are somewhat tenuous, you tend to forgive the quick nature and turnaround because – after all – it was a time where people, whatever sex, would be given the opportunity to help the war effort, and quite right to.
Her character builds her own self-belief through support from those around her but it’s all about her progression and personal choices that make Katrina an interesting soul. It’s refreshing to see lead females roles being portrayed properly more and more, so Arterton’s performance gives Katrina every ounce of life and promise, and you’re with her all the way.
While Sam Claflin’s co-starring role as Tom Buckley is steady and refined, and he’s also a huge part of backing Katrina and writing the scripts that become the films they make, the stand-out star is Bill Nighy who’s bang on form, as ever, bringing forth a focused centre and another sterling performance as an aging actor named Ambrose Hilliard. His role is also central to the progression of the film within the film and he always manages to balance the comic elements with the more serious quite perfectly.
Their Finest is one of those enjoyable Sunday afternoon movies that might not break the mould too much in terms of a classic narrative but it certainly flips the gender roles into a more progressive, positive manner. It also features top-draw performances from Nighy and Arterton, the latter who just keeps on impressing with every new role she takes on.
· Audio Commentary with Director Lone Scherfig
· Flickers of Hope: The Making of Their Finest
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