Director: Lone Scherfig
Runtime: 117 minutes
It’s no secret that women figured prominently in the early days of film making, but as the Twenties gave way into the Thirties, their presence became much less prominent to the point that by the time the Forties came around the only thing they were allowed to do was to construct the ‘slop’ that made up the expository dialogue, the wardrobe, and cosmetics (hair and make up) department. Their Finest touches on the fictional character of Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton), a woman who in the Second World War became instrumental in creating propaganda films to boost the British morale (and thus securing herself a position as a feminist at a time when feminism as such was barely an embryo.
When Catrin comes to the Ministry of Information looking for a secretarial job to make amends while her husband (Jack Houston) tries to score as an artist, she gets whisked into a world she couldn’t dream of: the motion picture industry. While working on short propaganda films that sought to make the women of England to join the workforce, she somehow, by a series of machinations, finds herself working in a major project. The project touches on the story of two sisters who stoke a boat to Dunkirk to save their father and in the evacuation, and the Ministry hopes to make it into a wartime movie. There she meets Tom Buckley (a dashing, bespectacled Sam Claflin who bares a strong resemblance to Nicholas Hoult), a screenwriter with whom she does not initially get along but with whom she must work with. Somehow the two of them manage to create a rousing variation of what was initially a bland picture to begin with and in the interim, a camaraderie develops among the cast members (among them Rachel Stirling, Richard E. Grant, Jeremy Irons — making his requisite cameo these days as upper management, which he plays with eyes closed as if the title were his — and best of all, Bill Nighy as a ham of an actor more concerned in his looks than the picture proper.
Their Finest will bring on some twists and turns with Catrin’s character as she slowly rises among the crowd to assert herself as a key player in the making of this film, and it’s often slightly predictable — a romance is almost certainly assured between her and Tom — but never dull or cardboard. The best part of Their Finest is how we as an audience get into the creative mind of a female who shapes a movie while living out her own drama as World War II rages on around them, and it balances comedy with drama rather deftly — often in the same sequence. This is a total crowd pleaser and a quintessential woman’s picture that would not have been out of place during its time, and it’s also a picture that speaks of the resilience of a people unwilling to surrender to chaos and death, but continue to soldier on while using escapism as a jumping off point.