2017-05-18 / On the Town

Movie about filmmaking teaches universal truths

The Movie Nut
Robert Gibbons

It’s a shame more people— many who might believe they can’t relate to a story about World War II—won’t see “Their Finest.”

The film is centered on that war, of course, but it’s so much more than a period piece. It’s about love and loss. It’s about how movies are made and truths are told. It’s about how writers work and about how talent knows no gender: It simply needs to find its time.

It’s witty and charming, sophisticated and nostalgic.

The film itself seems handcrafted, made with care by a director who paid close attention to every line of dialogue, character and element in every frame. This is beautiful and touching work.

It deserves to be seen, especially at this time when women increasingly are finding their voice and asserting their rights—because so much of this is about that.

Director Sherfig (“An Education,” “One Day”) can be hit or miss. She’s back on her game here.

She gets plucky performances from Arterton and Nighy as the lead actors in a superb ensemble cast. The knowing dialogue created by the screenwriters has been distributed among the characters.

Always smoking, but speaking blunt truths, Rachael Stirling (as Phyl Moore) is effortlessly effective. As Sophie Smith, Helen Mc- Crory owns every scene she’s in.

Cinematographer Sebastian Blenkov (he also shot “Miss Sloane”) works with a muted palette of blues, browns and grays, creating a London of blank skies and fog and desolation. His composition is reminiscent of the paintings of Norman Rockwell.

Sherfig maintains a balance between the hokey propaganda film being made and the hardworking crew trying to make it as their city and their personal lives turn to rubble. At times, her pace feels relentless, daring us to keep up with what’s going on.

Light moments relieve the tension of dark and serious days; humanity emerges from the devastation.

We’re in London in the early years of World War II and times are desperate. The British Ministry of Information, Film Division has been charged with making a film to boost morale at home— and convince America to send fighting forces to Europe.

Instructions are that the film must be “authentic, inspired by optimism” and should have “a woman’s touch.” Secretary Catrin Cole (Arterton), who thought she was applying for a another job in that field, is hired to write the female dialogue.

Catrin finds an “almost” true story of sisters Lily and Rose, who “nearly” rescued British soldiers from Dunkirk in a boat. Her idea gains approval.

Under the guidance of lead screenwriter Tom Buckley (Claflin) and co-writer Raymond Parfitt (Paul Ritter), she begins writing the picture.

“Don’t confuse facts with the truth,” Buckley advises.

Their cast is a motley mix led by the reluctantly aging and obliviously vain Ambrose Hilliard (Nighy), who finds recognition of his talent—and a revival of his career—in the hands of two smart women: Sophie, who takes over as his agent, and Catrin.

While the entire cast shines in finely tuned roles, none of the characters is more than skin-deep. A violently melodramatic situation and a brief sex scene feel contrived to clear characters off stage, but those are small criticisms of an entertaining film.

Humor emerges naturally and so does interesting information about motion pictures: why they succeed and why film was so important during the war years.

McCrory and Nighy have wonderfully witty repartee; there’s heartbreaking chemistry between Arterton and Claflin. Those four characters carry the story; their performances are touching, engaging and reason enough to see “Their Finest.”

As this movie—and the propaganda film being made—wind to their conclusions, there are experiences that teach universal lessons and moments that require Kleenex.

This is not simply a story of World War II.

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