Directed: Lone Scherfig
Writer: Lissa Evans (Story), Gaby Chiappe (screenplay)
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy
Tagline: “The spirit of the nation is in her hands”
Trivia: When Tom Buckley tells Catrin Cole, “Films are like life with the boring bits cut out” he is actually quoting Alfred Hitchcock.
You might say that there is “nothing new under the sun” when you watch this movie from a feminist perspective, but the fact that this movie was written (Lissa Evans), adapted (Gaby Schiappe) and directed (Lone Scherfig) by women shows that we did create some progress since the period this movie depicts.
You need to be stone-cold heart not to fall in love with this movie.
It tells a familiar story of British grit and resolve during World War II from an attractively different angle: that of an advertising copywriter, Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton), who’s recruited by the government to join the film industry.
Britain wants the United States to enter the war, and has decided cinematic propaganda is the way it can persuade the movie-mad Yanks to sign up. It seems that when there is a global call to arms, the uplifting escape that movies can offer is a necessity and the unique insight that women provide is essential.
Too many WWII films are strictly masculine stories in which women exist as quick-study love interests. Catrin is more than that, though her romantic trajectory is utterly predictable. She’s intelligent and witty, delivering her script ideas in a pleasant singsong lilt.
A woman screenwriter at this time was considered a novelty, and while the film addresses this (she’s hired to capture “the feminine experience”), Catrin’s struggles never play like struggles: Their Finest makes the process of writing look easy.
Typewriter keys get clicked, a paper of two is balled up in frustration and soon enough — poof! — a script appears. Wish that was true… They forgot the “blood, toil, tears and sweats” that goes in between…
One thing that stays true is that once hired she’s immediately informed that “Obviously we can’t pay you as much as the chaps,” by the head of the Ministry’s film division (Richard E. Grant) offhandedly which is one of countless swipes at Catrin’s sex that pass without a flicker of dissent.
Another comes on her first day in the office, when her irritable but undeniably gifted new colleague Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) breezily informs her that the women’s dialogue she’s been hired to write is known around the office as ‘the slop’
Other films have trained us to expect spiky comebacks to this stuff, whether historically likely or not. But Their Finest smartly withholds that easy jab of satisfaction – and the film’s gender politics are all the more riveting because they’re left to squirm away unhindered in the subtext.
Quickly Catrin is advanced from writing “the slop” to being a part of the copywriting team for the important movie. However, that movie has it’s own struggles to be made.
The struggle to get that movie made becomes a playful critique of the film industry at large, both then and now – the endless rondo of compromises, fudges and patch-ups that seem required in order getting anything done.
Catrin’s character is the main one in this movie and her arc from a rural, insecure woman to a woman who can stand up to anyone and take her own destiny in her hands, is a fantastic example how it should be done, but this movie is full of other strong women in different ways.
From Phyl Moore (Rachael Stirling) ministry coordinator in charge of making sure the film does not go off the rails, who dresses in Marlene Dietrich-style—and on several occasions gives hints of being proudly lesbian.
And my favorite one is Sophie (Helen McCrory), who, as a talent agent, brings man and dog to heel in a few short, barbed scenes. She’s the kind of no-nonsense woman you can imagine contributed to the real war effort, including in the film industry.
Their Finest is a joy to watch and leaves you with a taste of more and as the wise man said in the movie – I should now “cut half” of what I wrote. Go watch and enjoy!
Verdict – 5/5 Stars in my book