Film & TV

British Film Festival Review: Their Finest

Set during the height of the blitz, a shortage of men opens the door for a woman to write scripts for morale-boosters, bringing to them “a women’s perspective”.

Lone Scherfig’s latest feature has been labelled “a romantic comedy”. I’m not sure why. It certainly contains romance: glorious, tear-jerking romance. And it certainly contains comedy. But it no more fits into that genre framework than does the Fast and Furious franchise. This is, at its core, a period drama.

Set during the height of the blitz, the action revolves around a film production crew, working for the Ministry of Information. During the war, studios were busy making films to help boost morale, increase enlistment and sometimes, as is the case in this story, encourage the Yanks to come in with more than just Lend-Lease.

It is also a vital portrait of women during the war. The lead character is Catrin Cole, played by the exquisite Gemma Arterton. Due to a shortage of men, she finds herself writing scripts for these morale-boosters and bringing to them “a women’s perspective”. Meanwhile this same shortage (which is mostly of YOUNG men), allows ageing actor Ambrose Hilliard (the always fabulous Bill Nighy), to take on roles he wouldn’t otherwise have got. It is he who encourages Catrin to continue to make the most of the opportunities that war has given them.

Thoughtful casting has also given us Sam Claflin as Tom Buckley, Rachael Stirling as the feisty Phyl Moore, and Eddie Marsan, Jeremy Irons and Richard E Grant, in cameo roles.

The script by Gaby Chiappe is based on a novel by Lissa Evans, and it doesn’t miss a beat. Dialogue is sharp, intelligent and witty, and allows for gentle character development. The period details are expertly handled under the art direction of Alice Normington. This film is an embarrassment of riches, both visual and auditory.

The storyline moves into unexpected places, including the suddenly shocking and sad. It does not glamorize the war, nor does it ignore the social changes wrought by the conflict. It is fundamentally rooted in truth. One feels the sorrow of those women who took on “male” roles and thrived in them, only to be sent back into the kitchen in 1945.

To quote Phyl: “Men are terrified that once the war is over, we won’t go back into our boxes. That makes some of them belligerent”.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

Rating out of 10:  10

Their Finest will screen again on 19November for the BBC First British Film Festival, which runs 3 – 23 November 2016 exclusively at the Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas.

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