THEIR FINEST – A Review by John Strange
In 1940's London, the British government has come to the conclusion that there is a need for women screenwriters for the war propaganda films. Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired on the strength of a political cartoon she wrote. Her hiring at first bewilders her as she thought she was applying for a secretarial position.
This film is listed as a romantic comedy but I see it more as a social commentary. This film is a good introduction for people into the world of the 1940's complete with strong gender inequality. A great example is when the wage to be paid was discussed. A man would make something like three pounds and a little extra. Catrin would be paid two pounds.
Now the task was to find a story to turn into a film. Catrin investigates the story of two young women who participated in the Dunkirk evacuation. In eight days the boats managed to rescue 338,226 soldiers, all-in-all it truly was a miracle. The story of these two girls, Rose and Lily Starling, was not what Catrin would have hoped. They had taken their father's boat but had broken down several miles out to sea. Another boat towed them back to shore.
Determined to use the story of these two ladies, beaten down by an abusive father who braved the man's ire to try to do their part to save the soldiers. She leaves the boat's problem out when she tells her superiors about the idea.
The making of the movie is done with equal parts humor and drama. On the side of humor you have the excellent performance of such talent as Bill Nighy as long-in-the-tooth actor Ambrose Hilliard whose portrayal of "Uncle Frank" in the film is a lesson in acting. His character has to slowly come to grips with his age and the opportunity for parts that age brings. And he does it using the most broad strokes of humor that some may take a while to realize he isn't as dumb as he acts.
The drama is enhanced by having World War II as a background. The bombing of London by itself could have brought the nation to its collective knees but instead gave the British people a strength and desire to endure whatever was necessary to win and bring peace back to the world.
The making of the movie was fraught with problems. The discovery by the Ministry that the girls failed to reach Dunkirk, The need to raise morale was tendered by the need to work within the politics of the day. To get the film to play in America, the Americans insisted that the film have at least one American character (a problem since there were NO U.S. troop at Dunkirk). The boat could not have engine problems, that would demean the manufacturers of British engines.
The moves the writers take to keep actors on the set are skillful but their answer to the atrocious acting by the token American, Carl Lundbeck (Jake Lacy) who pays Brannigan in the film is both imaginative and well played. I can see other filmmakers utilizing this idea when forced to use "non-actors" in their films!
Their Finest is a film I walked into with the idea that I was going to be bored to death by yet another weak script trying to make it on the strength of the talent hired. Instead I found a strong script bringing life to a story that is both deep and enjoyable to watch. The supporting players are strong and bring a real feel for the era to the story.
As I said, I did not expect to really fall in love with this film. As I will admit it has a few "pimples" to mar it's looks but the overall package is a delight to watch. Film industry folks will likely see things in the film that many of the rest of the audience will miss. Still, the rest of you will see a well crafted look at an era that we all think we know a lot about. In between the fun and the bombing we'll be educated in what women had to do to make a living. And we'll be a bit appalled at the attitude men exhibited towards women in the workplace. But it was the way of that world.
This film is on my early best of the year list. Go see it.
Directed by: Lone Scherfig
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy and Jake Lacy
MPAA Rating: R (for some language and a scene of sexuality)
Selig Rating: A+
Runtime: 116 Min.
Movie Site: http://www.stxmovies.com/theirfinest/
The Selig Rating Scale:
A – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
B – Good movie
C – OK movie
D – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
F – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn't paid for it.