Their Finest, the latest film from Lone Scherfig, is likely to resonate most fully with those who understand the foundation upon which it is built including not just the comical novel by Lissa Evans but also the military history from which it is birthed. For those who even remotely "get it," Their Finest is likely to be a wonderful cinematic experience and one of early 2017's most intelligent and funny experiences.
If you don't get it? Maybe not.
Refreshingly, Their Finest takes a common theme in American cinema, women in the workplace, and doesn't Americanize it. Of course, one wouldn't expect Danish director Lone Scherfig to do so but the film is much better off for remaining faithful to its British roots and we can only hope some hack American director doesn't come along and bastardize it.
Set in 1940 London, the film stars Gemma Arterton as Catrin, A Welsh writer whose London presence is inspired by the presence of her boyfriend, Ellis (Jack Huston). She takes a job writing scenarios for the Ministry of Information, though it is well known she makes less than her male counterparts and is relegated to scripting what are considered to be the throwaway female parts. Eventually, her work reaches the eyes of Tom (Sam Claflin), the head writer who enlists her help on a feature-length project designed to rally the homefront.
The truth is that while Their Finest presents itself as largely a comedy, Their Finest is a wonderfully complex, fully layered and beautifully directed film by Lone Scherfig, whose film is fully human, incredibly and unabashedly feminist and, amidst it all, profoundly thought-provoking and entertaining.
Much of the film centers around the production that Catrin and Tom create, a film that Tom enthusiastically believes will alter the course of war with its "authenticity informed by optimism," though the story loosely based upon the evacuation of Dunkirk swirls around facts that aren't so much facts. As is often true with propaganda, pretty much everyone involved with the film has their own agenda, from military higher ups interested in drawing the United States into the war to an elder actor, played with hilarious aplomb by Bill Nighy, who keeps quietly trying to expand his relatively minor roles, to the women who are at the core of Their Finest.
In addition to Bill Nighy, Jake Lacy has some choice lines as an American flyboy hired more for his looks and less than his acting while even the relatively brief appearance by Jeremy Irons is a winner here.
While at its heart a comedy, Scherfig broadens the scope of Their Finest with relatively fleeting hints of romance and never lets the characters or the audience forget that all of this unfolds amidst the brutal realities of war. There's something particularly effective about a film that effectively portrays the richness of humanity amidst war, not just war but laughter and tears and romance, while never tossing aside or minimizing the immense losses that these individuals, men and women, must live with to carry out their daily tasks.
I will confess that I initially struggled to get into Their Finest's cinematic groove, not so much because of a fault with the film but simply because Scherfig's direction is so authentic and rich that I struggled to immerse myself in this world. Then, it occurred and I was fully engrossed without fail. Arterton, an underrated actress, gives a rich and believable performance with stellar comic timing, while Sam Claflin gives a perfect companion performance.
Their Finest arrives in Indianapolis at Landmark's Keystone Art CInema on 4/21/17.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic