Now on Blu-ray: The Delightful War Comedy-Drama of ‘Their Finest’

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Their Finest

Film critics don’t always like to admit but sometimes external factors can interfere with their enjoyment of a movie. I think that happened to me when I first viewed Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest. It was an early morning screening and traffic was hell that day. I was little late to the movie. While I enjoyed Their Finest, those external situations and a certain third act moment left me feeling like I wanted more from the film about a fictional World War II propaganda effort by the British. Now that Their Finest is landing on Blu-ray today, I can safely attest that I missed the mark with this absolutely wonderful movie.

Catrin (Gemma Arterton) has just been hired at the Ministry of Information and soon finds herself in the film department. She’s been tasked by her superior Tom Buckley (Sam Caflin) to write the “slop,” the dialogue for women characters. With the Germans carrying out their bombing campaign over London, morale is at a low and the powers that be at the Ministry of Information want to begin production on a movie that will rouse the spirit and resolve of the British people. Catrin finds that story in the true life tale of twin sisters who happened to be around the massive retreat at Dunkirk, and even though they embellished their story the twins provided enough flavor that the Catrin and Tom can craft a Hollywood-esque tale of everyday heroism. But it’s not enough for their film to reach the British public, the heads of the Ministry of Information want to use their movie in order to convince the Americans that they have to answer the call and join the fight against fascism.

That previous synopsis is the heart of Their Finest, and the relationship between Catrin and Tom starts off rather contentious, with the male writer being condescending towards his female underling. Then the two form a bond, and their bond really holds Their Finest together. It’s a love story of sorts, though it doesn’t play out as expected. Complicating the relationship is Catrin’s relationship with Ellis (Jack Houston), an artist whose prior injuries make him unable to serve in the Army. They pretend to be married because they live together, and that would be frowned upon. Whether her working relationship with Tom or her personal relationship with Ellis, Catrin’s story is one of the ever-evolving position of women at the start and following World War II. Their Finest is an undoubtedly a feminist film, but one that doesn’t preach to the audience. Instead it allows the story and the experiences of its characters.

Aside from the central story of Their Finest there are also a number of compelling subplots involving the various supporting characters. Front and center among the supporting characters is Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), a veteran of the screen who has trouble accepting the fact that his matinee idol good looks have faded with age. He battles with his agent, Sammy (Eddie Marsan), over what he considers roles beneath a man of his stature. But when Sammy is killed in a bombing raid, his sister, Sophie (Helen McCrory), takes over his agency and puts the aging actor in his place. On set, Hilliard must learn to accept not being front and center, and his script demands are tended to by a constantly busy Catrin.

There to complicate matters is Phyl (Rachael Stirling), who reports back to the superiors at the Ministry of Information. She’s a strong, competent woman and the film suggests that she might not exactly be straight, but that’s handled with light, deft touch. Then there’s the hapless American recruited to star in the film, Carl Lundbeck (Jake Lacy), a real life hero who isn’t a capable actor. These are all little comedic roadblocks on the path to make a rousing piece of propaganda.

There are no shortage of movies that extol the glory of the cinema, but Their Finest somewhat eschews that because this movie is much more about the people making the movies. Their work leads to a piece of work that touches the hearts and minds of the masses, but this movie is about the journey to bring that to the screen.

On my first viewing of the film, though, I was dismayed by a certain third act event that I simply didn’t care for. Revisiting the film didn’t make me like the moment any more, but no movie is must meet audience demands and expectations, and what follows is just as warm and thoughtful as everything that came before it.

The special features on the Blu-ray included audio commentary by director Lone Scherfig as well as featurette on the making of the movie. What really stands out is how well Their Finest works as a fictional accompaniment to Five Came Back, the Netflix documentary series based on the book by Mark Harris. Both highlight the threat posed by the Axis forces of World War II and the ongoing propaganda war that played out on movie screens around the world. Five Came Back is much more academic and thoughtful in its examination of the filmmakers who turned their backs on Hollywood to aid in the war effort. Their Finest, conversely, is a charming, delightful work of cinema, and one that I’m going to be forever upset that I underrated on its initial release.

Their Finest
  • Overall Score
4

Summary

An absolutely delightful mix of comedy and drama, Their Finest tells the fictional story of a team of filmmakers working to bring a rousing piece of propaganda to the big screen in order to raise the nation’s morale.

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