“Their Finest” is a charming and thoughtful movie, about people making a charming and thoughtful movie.
The characters in the real film often poke fun at the film-within-a-film, a propaganda movie made by the British before the U.S. has entered World War II. But the two pieces of cinema become tied together, with many of the same weaknesses and strengths.
The largest asset is a general positive outlook for humanity – something that makes the production well-timed for cynical 2017 audiences. “Their Finest” features tragedy and a constant state of tension, as London faces air raids and its population makes sacrifices. But nearly all the characters – from its plucky scriptwriters to a haughty and oblivious actor played by Bill Nighy – have a hidden trait of decency that is excavated with each bomb strike.
Our heroes are Catrin Cole and Tom Buckley (Gemma Arterton and Sam Clafin), writers who are tasked with making an inspiring film about a fishing boat rescue after the Battle of Dunkirk. As the minister of information (Richard Grant) keeps adding new challenges, Cole and Buckley try harder to make a piece of art. They develop a convincing romance that complicates the script, then inspires the finished product.
Based on a book by Lissa Evans and directed by Lone Scherfig, the film is infused with a receiving line of lively characters, including an American who can’t act, and two sisters-turned-boat captains who are less than ideal heroes. The female characters are particularly strong, mining many of the same themes and struggles seen in TV’s “Mad Men.” Rachael Stirling is particularly good as an uptight movie studio rule enforcer who softens as she realizes Cole’s struggles are her own.
As the propaganda film-within-the-film morphs from a by-the-numbers drama into a piece of art, “Their Finest” falters. The second half of the film has a pair of contrivances, both conveniently timed to move a sputtering plot forward. Scherfig does steer the film right before the ending, taking advantage of the goodwill built up in the first two acts.
While it was probably an accident, the timing for “Their Finest” is excellent – with Christopher Nolan’s big budget action/drama “Dunkirk” arriving this summer. This is a smaller, more tangential and certainly more humorous film. There are no real battles, beyond the bombs raining from above. But the triumph over adversity is inspiring nonetheless.
☆ ☆ ☆
Cast: Sam Clafin, Bill Nighy, Gemma Arterton, Helen McCrory.
Director: Lone Scherfig.
Running time: 117 minutes.
Rating: R (some language and a scene of sexuality).