For a film about propaganda, its own marketing campaign was quite well organised. Last weekend a feature was published in The Times which contained a charming interview with the film’s star Gemma Arterton. In this interview, she discussed her desire to move from big blockbuster films to smaller character driven ones. Arterton is probably better known for her roles in big blockbuster American films such as ‘Prince of Persia’, ‘Hansel & Gretel’ and ‘Clash of Titans’. Arterton explained that whilst these films offered well-paid opportunities to new talent, they were ultimately unsatisfying roles, a familiar path for many actors including Bill Nighy.
Furthermore, when I saw this film in the cinema yesterday, a trailer for Chris Nolan’s new film ‘Dunkirk’ appeared in all its glory. The combination of the article and trailer resulted in a feeling of envelopment in the entire experience once the film started. Something I can’t often say regarding the cinema experience, despite the message before trailers begin assuring you that these trailers are suited to the film you are about to watch. Never has this been so true.
‘Their Finest’ focuses on Gemma Arterton’s character, a former secretary who is newly appointed to the film propaganda department. She joins the production team as they begin work on a new project exploring the efforts of two women who helped the men at Dunkirk.
The cast is almost entirely comprised of British actors, a mixture of more essential British acting talent including Bill Nighy, Jeremy Irons, Helen McCrory and Richard E. Grant. With a number of rising stars including Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin and Jack Huston. We know from their previous work that this is a commanding ensemble, despite McCrory’s accent straying at times. For the younger members of the cast, this film enabled them to really showcase their talent. Arterton and Claflin have trodden similar paths, both have previously been attached to big Hollywood films which may pay very well, but do not allow the spotlight to shine upon supporting roles in quite the same way these films do, both actors successfully rise to meet the challenge and display real prowess.
The director, Lone Scherfig, is a woman who ought to be a more well-known household name, as not only does she have formidable skill as a director, as displayed in ‘Their Finest’ she also possesses an ability to produce a thoughtful and intelligent film with equal measures of humour, nuance and the emotional depth of that period. Note that despite the propaganda film being for British morale, the word ‘Germans’ is never used, instead ‘Hitler’ is the only word used as a link to the enemy. Scherfig also has great range and an ability to deal with some terribly dark and more modern explorations of a male driven privileged society, as seen in a great film called ‘The Riot Club’, which also starred Claflin, and Sam Irons (Jeremy Irons’s Son).
There is no doubt in my mind that this is one of the finest British films I have seen in recent years, both as an intelligent film and as a feminist piece. In fact, homosexuality as a subject is handled skilfully, with some fantastic eyebrow acting from Rachel Stirling’s character. There is, however, one problem with the film, one which I cannot say without spoiling it, so I will only allude to it. There is one scene that felt poorly written, misjudged and quite horribly handled in contrast to the subtle writing seen throughout the rest of the film. It was so jarring for me that it stayed with me for the rest of that film as I sat there trying to dissect it and find its meaning and purpose. I have seen a few 5-star reviews, many of which cannot understand why more people are not stamping it with the same rating. This scene is that reason, a horribly distracting moment from an otherwise charming and intelligent film.
I mention that scene, not only because this is a review, but also as an explanation as to why I too won’t award this film 5 stars. However, barring that one moment, this film is an excellent piece of British cinema that should receive high praise, despite what some critics are saying.
I hope this film is a sign that times are changing, that despite the current positions of power in the world, ‘Their Finest’ displays equality as its most refreshing and strongest element. It pours from the writing, the direction and the cast. It acknowledges the rest of the world, without rising to the same offensive level of material emulating from certain countries. ‘Thier Finest’ remains politely British in its essence whilst alluding to our own very keen awareness.
OVERALL **** One of the finest British films to be made in recent years, equality, a nuance script, a strong comedic element and an ability to produce the finest talent from its cast.
RECOMMENDATION – I highly recommend this film, even if from the outskirts, it looks quaint and perphaps dull for those not a fan of war time films. There is such depth to this film you would do yourself a disservice not to see it.