Before we start, I need to voice my opposition to this film’s R rating, which the MPAA describes as “R for some language and a scene of sexuality.” In the film, this constitutes three uses of the word “fuck” and a single scene of a random female character straddling another man with light side-boobage. Meanwhile, films like “Phoenix Forgotten” and “The Fate of the Furious” get by with PG-13 ratings, despite their proclivity for violence and terror respectively. “Their Finest” presents a fine history lesson for children that has been stripped from availability due to these “R-rated qualities. In light of that…fuck, fuck, fuck. This review is now more R-rated than “Their Finest.”
Hollywood has a particular fixation on movies about movies, for obvious reasons. In the film industry, we like to know that what we do matters, but more so to show audiences that what we do matters, and to not take our artform for granted. This is why movies like “The Artist” and “Argo” succeeded both so well to the point of both snagging respective Best Picture wins at the Academy Awards. Even something like “La La Land” harkens back to a time of golden age musicals that makes the film quite meta in itself, if also due to Emma Stone’s Mia looking for film roles as an actress. In a world where we have governments telling us that art doesn’t matter with numerous cuts to the arts funds that affect so many people, it’s imperative that we don’t lose sight of the things that make society so wonderful. This is where “Their Finest” comes in.
“Their Finest” is probably the most lightweight WWII movie to ever exist, but if there’s two things we should be doing in this day and age, it’s propagating art and telling Nazis to shove it.
Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is a former secretary in London during WWII drafted by the Ministry of Information – Film Division to help pen propaganda screenplays targeted at women during the war. Paired with Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), a sharp-tongued, no nonsense writer, Catrin exposes herself to the world of not only filmmaking, but that of nationalist propaganda. As their film begins to take shape, they soon begin to realize that their well-intentioned film will be much harder to produce than they thought, with government meddling, prima donna actors (a fabulous Bill Nighy), non-professional cast/crew and personal issues get in their way.
Arterton has always been an actress I have really believed in ever since seeing her as the luminous Strawberry Fields in the not-so-luminous Bond film “Quantum of Solace.” Since then, Arterton has been given roles that relegate her to the hot girl with a nice voice role, but her work in independent, European filmmaking like “Tamara Drew” and “Gemma Bovery” have always been much stronger than her studio work, to which “Their Finest” might be the finest of. Unlike her previous roles, Catrin is a quiet, mousy Welsh girl with little personal confidence, but a knack for her work. Taking this new archetype, Arterton runs with it very well to a most effective performance. The same can also be said for Claflin, though he is no stranger to that of sharp-tongued characters, with his most famous character, Finnick Odair from the “Hunger Games” series demonstrating that in full swing. Still, despite them still being just as pretty as ever, they find new ground I didn’t expect them to find.
But it’s Nighy that steals the show as aging star, Abrose Hilliard. Not only does Nighy find quite a bit of comedy in the character, but also finds a touching side to him that we aren’t accustomed to seeing in the genre actor. This balance is what makes Nighy perfect for the job, showcasing a versatility (and a beautiful singing voice) that I think many people overlook when looking at some of the best working actors today.
Director Lone Scherfig isn’t a stranger to fluffy, pretty British cinema, and while I would loop something like “An Education” a bit higher than “Their Finest,” this film is leaps and bounds above of “One Day.” Scherfig finds comfort in sometimes uncomfortable situations, such as that of a war. I’m not sure if the English (or in Scherfig’s case, Danish) have an American equivalent to comfort food, but this would be the cinematic equivalent of it. Never does the film go in too many directions that feel forced, pretentious or over-the-top, but Scherfig has crafted an attractive, funny, if a bit basic looking film that really finds the right aesthetic for WWII.
Is “Their Finest” perfect? No film ever really is (save for a few). Occasionally, the pace of the film took a turn for the sloggy, dragging a bit more than it should between the second and third acts. The film doesn’t have an insane amount of dramatic impact in it, favoring some lighter elements when a darker tone could’ve been produced, resulting in a bit more “oomph.” Not to mention the film’s finale, which really made the film take a turn for the worse in a thematic way that I was not expecting, nor did I really accept and/or like. Still, in the grand scheme of things, these things didn’t bother me as much as it sounds like they did.
It’s honestly impossible to hate a film like “Their Finest,” as a film about Allied efforts to stop the Nazis already puts it on a good start of likability (for now), and it’s so light and fluffy that it practically begs you to be invested in the story, and it’s not hard to. Pair this tone with three positively charming performances from Arterton, Claflin and Nighy, as well as numerous supporting actors; Scherfig’s airy and competent direction, the film’s funny, poignant screenplay and its ability to put a smile on an audience’s face in the face of war is something to be applauded. Let’s just hope we get to see more movies like this in the future, as it seems we need more and more films to place smiles on our faces, and who can resist smiling?
Directed by: Lone Scherfig
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, and Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Helen McCrory, Eddie Marsan, Jake Lacy, Rachael Stirling, with Richard E. Grant
Runtime: 117 minutes
Rating: R for some language and a scene of sexuality.
Now playing exclusively at the Regal Manor Twin and Ballantyne Village 5.
EuropaCorp with BBC Films, The Welsh Government and Pinewood Pictures present, in association with Ingenious Media and HanWay Films, a Woolley/Posey, Wildgaze/Number 9 Films production, a film by Lone Scherfig, “Their Finest”