Preview Screenings in Australia over the Easter long weekend; opens April 20th
*** (out of five)
Lone Scherfig loves to fetishise Britishness. In her masterpiece, An Education (2009) she presents a fabulous and slightly fantastic 60s London; in The Riot Club (2014) she gets right into the taffy and the toffee at the snootiest club within Oxford University. Now she gives us a dreamily romanticised London under the blitz. It’s suitable for a romantic and slightly ludicrous drama – as this is – but one can imagine the matte painted bombed-out streetscapes and central-cast Old Londoners With War Relief Tins seeing Ken Roach, Danny Boyle or any one else with a penchant for grit or realism puking in the aisles. Bombings – and bombing victims – are rarely this pretty.
That said, the subject of Their Finest is filmmaking, and, during the course of the film, we see plenty of instances of the craft’s artifice, so perhaps that of the film we’re watching is highly deliberate. Indeed, there were a few times, as we watch a film get made and then that film (that “film within a film”), that the film (this one!) seems to be going deliberately meta – but one cannot be sure, since the tone of the film itself seems unsteady; it is rocked off its hinges by a brutal shift in the third act.
Until then it’s a very enjoyable romp through familiarly enjoyable territory. Catrin Cole (lovely and very period-friendly Gemma Arterton) is a Welsh cartoonist drafted into screenwriting for the Ministry of Information. She ends up writing “the women’s dialogue” (and, of course, much more) for a propaganda picture first designed simply to boost morale, then elevated to being used as a direct entreaty to get the US to enter the war. The power of cinema indeed! Unfortunately for her, the film, and us, she also has to navigate a love triangle, which is completely unnecessary and stretches the film at least twenty-five minutes beyond breaking point.
It’s a pity, because much of the film, and certainly the premise, is great. Watching how digestible propaganda was made at the highest levels of the British war effort is fascinating, and one doesn’t doubt the authenticity of all of the scenes involving that activity’s nuts and bolts. It’s the love story that doesn’t ring true.
Incidentally, Bill Nighy gives yet another perfect performance as a British actor. Loverly!