During the London Blitz of World War II, Catrin Cole is recruited by the British Ministry of Information to write scripts for propaganda films that the public will actually watch without scoffing. In the line of her new duties, Cole investigates the story of two young women who supposedly piloted a boat in the Dunkirk Evacuation. Although it proved a complete misapprehension, the story becomes the basis for a fictional film with some possible appeal. As Cole labors to write the script with her new colleagues such as Tom Buckley, veteran actor Ambrose Hilliard must accept that his days as a leading man are over as he joins the project. Together, this disparate trio must struggle against such complications such as sexism against Cole, jealous relatives, and political interference in their artistic decisions even as London endures the bombs of the enemy. In the face of those challenges, they share a hope to contribute something meaningful in this time of war and in their own lives.Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A stirring, sentimental, satisfying peek into WWII propaganda filmmaking and romance.
"They're afraid they won't be able to put us back in the box when this is over, and it makes them belligerent." Phyl Moore (Rachael Stirling)
Phyl is spot on about the focus of Their Finest, a period piece (1940) about the British film industry's part in supporting WWII. The heart of this sometimes comic romance is Catrin's (Gemma Arterton) emergence from secretary to writer in a time when women were expected to be no more than secretaries. Of course, they would no more be "in the box" after the war.
Comic moments are plentiful, especially when aging actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy at his best) is on screen. He is in a company producing a propaganda film to support the war and perhaps induce the USA to enter the war. Although seeing the inventive ways the industry created special effects and worked through themes would be a reason for a cinephile to see this film, the higher takeaway is the growing empowerment of Catrin, and all women, not just in Britain but everywhere.
She has a growing affection for fellow writer Ellis (Jack Huston—Yes, that Huston grandson), slow and so British reserved that it is one of the best romances of the year. Although I have reservations about a woman needing a man to be successful, this romance is authentic because it grows like ripening fruit, no passion or flowery bombast to speed it along.
Beyond the romance and the mechanics of early filmmaking, the art of writing is satisfactorily treated, in fact one of the first times I have seen it depicted as a communal effort. Besides, I love seeing ideas and dialogue worked out among the team without overly-dramatic flourishes but rather with the kind of quiet discovery that may have occurred with any successful team effort.
Their Finest is part old-fashioned filmmaking with sentiment and sense overlaid by a progressive theme showing the ascendancy of women in WWII beyond "Rosie the Riveter." You'll cry a little, you'll laugh a little, and you'll nod your head a little in admiration of the contributions made in big wars by this marvelous art form, film.
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