Their Finest, from Danish director Lone Scherfig (An Education, One Day) is a rose-tinted view of life during wartime, an odd mixture of comedy and drama with a dash of romance in London, 1940.
The film follows Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton), a Welsh girl living in London during The Blitz, sharing a shoddy apartment with her older and poorer artist boyfriend. The artist boyfriend, Ellis (Jack Huston), is immediately showing signs of disinterest in Catrin. At first we think nothing of it. What’s a disinterested husband in 1940s London?
Catrin soon falls into work with the Ministry of Information, in other words, the British government’s WWII propaganda machine. Under the (what is apparently meant to be playfully sexist?) tutelage of Buckley (Sam Claflin) Catrin settles into her role, and slowly becomes a bit of an innovator within the Ministry and gets to work on an important film for the war effort.
No Mills & Boon Cheesy Romance:
I am no fan of romance films. There’s a Mills & Boon quality to most that is just nauseating. Their Finest however doesn’t fall into this category. When it does threaten to, it’s actually quite endearing, mirroring the supposed morale-lifting fluff of the movies the studio is making. The entire tone of the film lends itself to this sort of play, and the film uses it to its full advantage. Scenes that are meant to be touching hold a hint of golden age melodrama but the effect is still powerful, the dialogue clichéd, but emotive.
The cinematography in the film is simple yet gorgeous. While no shots in particular jump into mind as anything groundbreaking, each one is well thought out and aesthetically appealing. Dark shots of heart to hearts by moonlight and invigoratingly bright shots of beaches saves the film from becoming yet another dark, grubby looking war film.
The setting of wartime London does not a feminist paradise make. Catrin is confronted time and time again with men that treat her like a rather enthusiastic but annoying dog. She’s constantly brushed aside and her efforts are sneered at. A coworker makes a good point to Catrin, that men are scared women won’t go back in their boxes after the war. And too right. The film however doesn’t encapsulate this message so succinctly in all regards. The main love interest of the film treats her with misogynistic disdain. When said love interest moves from antagonist to potential beau, we are apparently meant to brush this aside entirely. Whoops, what degrading treatment? It’s the ‘40s, they’re in love.
Bill Nighy presents a lovable character in the film, an ageing actor who is left out of the limelight and is asked to take role of a comedically drunken uncle to reinvigorate his career, much to his ire. His story-line with Helen McCrory’s character, sister of Bill’s late agent, is both comical and heartwarming.
In the film there is a rather harsh liaison between the Secretary of War, Phyl Moore (Racheal Stirling), and Catrin and Buckley. Phyl eventually, through nudges and winks, is revealed to be a lesbian. While it’s great to see gay characters in films it is a point to note that the fun portrayal of being gay in 1940s London is a touch too jolly. While I’m sick to death of sad stories revolving around LGBT characters in film, I’m still expecting a touch of reality. I just can’t suspend my disbelief to the point where I can see Phyl being so carefree with whom she tells about her sexuality.
Overall Their Finest is a very entertaining film. While at times it lacks a certain authenticity, it’s that same rose-tinted view of 1940s London that gives the film a sweet taste, a romantic drama masquerading as a war film. Lone Scherfig seems to have a great sense of visuals in this film and the writing is truly endearing.