THEIR FINEST (2016) is an enjoyable film about the production of a British morale-boosting film made during the London Blitz.
At the start of the 1940s, with England in the thick of World War II, Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) suddenly has the opportunity to jump from copywriter to screenwriting. Catrin ends up working with two men (Sam Claflin and Paul Ritter) to provide the "woman's angle" on a film about the evacuation of Dunkirk.
The movie is loosely inspired by twin women who took a boat to Dunkirk, but since they weren't able to make it to shore, Catrin must embellish their story. The scriptwriters also deal with varied demands, such as the Secretary of War (Jeremy Irons) wanting the film to help rally Americans to fight for England. To that end, a real-life American-born RAF fighter pilot hero (Jake Lacy of MISS SLOANE
) is worked into the cast, despite the fact that Americans weren't at Dunkirk -- and despite the fact that he can't act!
On a personal front, Catrin struggles with her relationship with her significant other (Jack Huston), a painter, while feeling a quiet attraction toward one of her writing partners (Claflin).
THEIR FINEST is a solid film which gets a lot right. The cast is excellent, with strong performances from Arterton and Claflin, and Bill Nighy is a scene-stealing gem as an aging actor.
I especially liked that the script avoids cliches for Nighy's character; the scene where he's finessed into serving as acting coach to the pilot who can't act is a gem, as are subsequent scenes of him working with the young man.
It's a terrific role and performance by Nighy. Another scene where he leads the film crew singing in a pub is genuinely moving, as is a scene where he tells Catrin that, as an older man and a woman, the war has given each of them opportunities they wouldn't have otherwise had.
The "woman's angle" is not just something Catrin provides for the movie within a movie, but it's a running subtext for the entire film, whether it's Catrin being told she won't receive the same pay as the men or the Secretary (Irons) repeatedly patting her shoulders as he makes his pitch for using the film for diplomatic purposes. The tone regarding this seemed just right; enough to make the viewer think about it, yet not so heavy-handed that it pulls one out of the 1940s setting.
The movie is also largely successful conveying an authentic London of the '40s; we know there must be some green screen work involved, but it didn't feel as overt to me as it did in, say, THE IMITATION GAME
(2014). The film actually shows fairly little of the city, which probably made it easier, yet it captures the feel of London.
Where the movie let me down was in the "movie within a movie" scenes. Yes, movies in the '40s filmed in tanks and had fake backdrops, but the finished "movie" doesn't really look like anything actually made in the era, and it's also a shade too hokey to be taken seriously. The scenes work if you look at them as satire, but there's an extended sequence near the end as Catrin watches the film with a genuinely moved audience, and what's on screen is simply incongruous with the audience's reactions. I found this a significant problem in a film which is otherwise quite good; it almost, perhaps unintentionally, insults the audience in the film for being so easily manipulated.
To a lesser extent, I was disappointed in a character death I found entirely predictable, although I must say I didn't see the manner of death coming. The staging was also odd in that everyone walks off and leaves someone alone in the aftermath, who clearly shouldn't have been ignored at that moment. I wished the movie hadn't felt the need to go that direction with the story.
I've read a number of strong reviews of the film, and while I enjoyed it quite well, I think there tends to be what I've started to think of as a LA LA LAND
(2016) phenomenon, where anything that's creative and different, with filmmakers thinking "outside the box," gets reviewer bonus points that might not really be warranted.
That said, the "different" setting was part of what made the film enjoyable to me; the Blitz is part of any number of actual '40s films I like, such as CONFIRM OR DENY
(1941) or one of my favorite musicals, TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT
(1945), but it's certainly a change of pace for a brand-new film.
It's worth noting that this summer will see the release of Christopher Nolan's DUNKIRK (2017). The two films could end up making an interesting double bill one day!
Supporting actor Jack Huston (seen at left) is the fourth generation of the Huston family to work in films; he is the great-grandson of Walter and the grandson of John, his father being Tony Huston. Anjelica is his aunt. The cast also includes Diana Rigg's daughter, Rachael Stirling.
The movie was directed by Lone Scherfig
. It was filmed by Sebastian Blenkov
. The script by Gaby Chiappe was based on a novel
by Lissa Evans. The running time is 117 minutes.
The trailer is here
Parental Advisory: This film is rated R. There is a brief scene of a couple "caught in the act" and a couple of scenes showing bombing victims. All are telegraphed in advance for those who want to avoid looking, but parents may want to steer clear of this for children. The up side is the film's depiction of resilience, hard work, and patriotism under very difficult conditions.
All in all, THEIR FINEST may be somewhat oversold in some quarters, but it's a good film which I do recommend seeing. I liked it and will want to see it again.
Finally, a couple of my periodic comments on the current state of the moviegoing experience, following posts of January
First, one has to really want to see a movie these days, knowing that before seeing it you'll have to sit through a good 20 minutes of trailers, some of which are quite disturbing. I found the trailer for THE BEGUILED (2017) upsetting, and I was also unhappy having to sit through several minutes of Al Gore yelling in AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL (2017). And when I recently saw THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS
(2017) that meant sitting through several extremely violent action trailers completely different in tone from the movie I was there to see. Sigh.
Also, the trailers were played at full volume and perfectly understandable, but the volume on the movie itself then dropped significantly. Not ideal when we were straining to pick up some of the voices with their clipped British accents! It seemed to us to reflect the lack of a projectionist actually paying attention and adjusting accordingly. I'm going to want to see this again on DVD in part to pick up the dialogue I missed.
Movie-going issues such as I've written about here and in the past make me extremely grateful to have so many great experiences seeing older films at theaters such as the Egyptian and the Billy Wilder.