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FILM REVIEW: Their Finest. Gemma Arterton in Second World War film about filmmaking

Their Finest (12A)
Running time 1hr 57mins
Rating: ****

WE, as a nation, have a peculiar relationship with the Second World War – in no other country would The Longest Day pass for a staple of Christmas broadcasting, and it’s hard to recall a British sitcom of note lacking in Nazi jokes. Yet we do the subject justice on the big screen, and Their Finest should serve as a reminder of this, approaching the war movie in an original and delightfully self-referential way. While the release of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk in July will inevitably overshadow this gem, it’s a film in its own, very modern league, eschewing old-school thrills and japery in favour of charm and quiet intelligence.

Of course, this country also does eccentric premises well, and Their Finest takes the cake in this regard, being, of all things, a romantic drama about propagandists (although none of the characters would use that term). In Britain’s darkest hour, the Ministry of Information demands a human-interest picture to rouse the public spirit on both sides of the Atlantic. Cole (Gemma Arterton) is charged with typing up the ‘slop’ (female dialogue), though quickly shocks her chauvinistic peers with her wit and aptitude, all the while romancing Sam Claflin’s dashing, long-suffering co-writer.

A movie like this would struggle as a mere period romp, however – the relationship between Arterton and Claflin is sweet, if a little on the undeveloped side – and Bill Nighy is here at hand as Ambrose Hilliard, a down-on-his-luck thespian, reeling from his ’30s heyday as the star of a crummy detective series. This (Nighy, not Hilliard) is an actor whose olde worlde charm and sense for self-expression continues to humour and move – see an early sequence where his agent (Eddie Marsan, in a typically flamboyant role) informs him of his casting as a drunken uncle for the fullest possible confirmation of the man’s talent.

Their Finest is unapologetically in a tradition of films ABOUT filmmaking and its love for the art shines through, even where itoccasionally falls short on story and character detail (Tom Buckley, in the role of Catrin’s estranged husband, would have benefited from a more focused treatment, instead hanging around in the shadows as a frustratingly ill-defined figure). Like the best of its genre, it grasps that about the creative process which is so endlessly absorbing and dreamy, balancing some rather fascinating technical insights (ever wondered how they used to shoot at-sea scenes?) with an out-of-studio drama which, courtesy of a script too clever for its own good, comes across as touching and believable. Its progressive spirit is communicated with great subtlety and eloquence – not content, like the best of its kind, to sit back and preach, the film is a comment on human and workplace relationships, and a loveable one in that.

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