Their Finest


Reviewed by: Evelin Toth

Their Finest
"A charming and entertaining take on the film within the film scenario, with solid performances from all of its cast." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Films about filmmaking are an indulgent prospect; they attempt to woo us by showcasing the mastery of chaos and wise-cracking wits necessary to bring together a successful picture. It’s amusement within amusement, designed to make one marvel at the gears at work. In recent years we’ve seen examples of this like the Coen brothers’ Hail Cesar (2016), blowing minds with its spiderweb-like interconnected storylines so characteristic of the directors. Their Finest focuses less on the spectacle and more on the personal, revolving around a female copywriter dropped into the mayhem of wartime filmmaking and the not-so-subtle propaganda of 1940s London.

At its best, Their Finest is not only masterfully acted but is undeniably amusing. Gemma Arterton is graceful and expressive (in an underwritten role) as Caitlin Cole, a writer hired by the Ministry of Information to give motion pictures a more authentic female touch - or as they call it, to produce the “slop”. Sam Claflin is convincing at every moment as sarcastic and neurotic young writer Buckley. However, the thunder is stolen by two veterans of British cinema: Bill Nighy as self-indulgent thespian Ambrose Hillard, and Jeremy Irons in a hilarious cameo as the dictatorial but out of touch Secretary of War.

Copy picture

At its weakest, the film reminds us of the contrived nature of stories. As Buckley puts it, unlike the events of real life, cinema demands purpose and structure. For the protagonist, this justifies lying about real life events for the sake of preserving the the role of the twins Lily and Rose in the picture. For the film itself, it is giving meaning to events and twists that fail to deliver. Arterton and Claflin display sparking on-screen chemistry throughout the film, lending authenticity to the complementary relationship between Cole and Buckley. However, one can’t help but feel that the romantic plot between them, or its role in providing meaning to their actions throughout the film, undermines their real motivations and agency as characters. Using the film’s own logic, one can almost imagine the producers going “you need more love story in it.”

For most of the story, Caitlin is fighting against the wills of men attempting to box her and her female counterparts - her husband, producers, even Buckley. She masterfully appropriates her role in the making of the Dunkirk picture, and the high responsibilities that come with it. Their Finest sets out to prove that the determination of women in an era of patriarchal constraints goes a long way, only to take it all away from her in an almost parodical accident.

The loss she experiences, while clearly designed to lend emotional depth, comes at the expense of her credibility as a character. Cole’s journey as a writer who successfully earns fulfilment on her own accord is undermined by the sudden loss of interest in her job - due to the absence of a man whose affection rapidly came to be prioritsed over the rest of her life. The film builds a compelling story only to break it down by saying romantic fulfilment is the ultimate attainment and its loss results in a world beyond repair, forgetting all the efforts it made to prove women themselves are important to the picture - be it the Dunkirk one or Their Finest itself.

Lone Scherfig’s picture is a charming and entertaining take on the film within the film scenario, with solid performances from all of its cast. Even with a plot that fails its characters at the end, it manages to earn itself laughs (thanks to Bill Nighy’s presence) and build another solid (though unfortunately conformist) case for period dramas.

Reviewed on: 20 Feb 2017
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A British film crew in the Second World War makes a propaganda film.
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Director: Lone Scherfig

Writer: Gaby Chiappe, based on the novel by Lissa Evans

Starring: 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, Hubert Burton, Claudia Jessie, Stephanie Hyam

Year: 2016

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK

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