It’s refreshing to find a war movie that doesn’t deal directly with soldiers fighting on the front-lines, but rather with the people fighting a different kind of battle. Instead, Their Finest is about inspiring hope in the midst of war through writing and movies. It’s a cross between a film about the film industry and a love story set amid the backdrop of war-torn London. The film, directed by Lone Scherfig, is full of optimism, humor, but is also coated with a sense of lurking darkness. It finds difficulty balancing all three occasionally and, near the end, it does become too drawn out. While the story loses its footing in the final third of the film, Their Finest does boast a fantastic cast that manages to keep you invested in the narrative even after it feels like it’s over.
The film, based on the novel by Lissa Evans, is set in 1940 London after the Blitzkrieg during World War II. The story follows Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) on her journey through finding her place, her optimism, a career, and love. Having just moved to London from Wales, Catrin takes a job as a screenwriter with the British ministry. Turning to propaganda, Catrin is tasked with writing movies that are hopeful in order to boost the country’s morale. She has to work with a seasoned and somewhat snobbish script writer, Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), and the pair strike up a challenging friendship that later blossoms into romance. Their first assignment together is to make a film about Dunkirk and they’re to make sure the film is heroic and also has a happy ending.
Although it’s set only a year into the second world war, Their Finest is surprisingly full of humor. This gives the film a nice touch and reminds us that even though times may be dark, that there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. Bill Nighy’s character is especially endearing. He plays the stereotypical actor who, after a long career and lots of fame, thinks very highly of himself, but hasn’t been able to land a good job because of his age. He provides a dry sense of humor that works well within the scope of the film and differs from the silly comedy that Jake Lacy’s character takes on as the American soldier-turned-actor.
Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin easily carry the film. Arterton, especially, is a standout. Her character is emotionally open, yet guarded as she navigates the realm of a male-dominated industry. Her attempts to get a word in is sometimes overlooked, but she pushes to be heard. She’s the morale booster who always strives to see the upside to the situation despite bombs being dropped and heartache being felt. Claflin is equally memorable, but there are moments of frustration with his character who sometimes goes out of his way to demean Arterton’s character, while at the same time being her biggest supporter. They fall into a strange dynamic. You want to root for them while at the same time being cautious of the way Claflin’s character can easily scar Arterton’s. Regardless, the two actors have a tremendous amount of chemistry and when the writing allows them to be a bit more light-hearted, they are both downright charming.
Their Finest is the kind of romantic drama that may set some hearts swooning, but the film does go on for too long and doesn’t always do right by its narrative. Once the film hits its stride around halfway through, though, it does provide us with great character moments and a strong enough story. However, after awhile, the story does feel like one too many punches in the gut in terms of how much personal tragedy one character can take. But despite my reservations over certain aspects of the film, Their Finest is still a fairly decent movie with a nice message about hope in times of war. It’s grounded by its sense of humor and a spirited hopefulness which seeps through the layers of dread throughout.