Their Finest movie review: keeping calm and carrying on making movies

part of my Directed by Women series
MaryAnn’s quick take: Delightful dry and snarky satire on wartime propaganda, sharp feminist commentary, and a brilliant cast make this snappy historical dramedy a real corker.
I’m “biast” (pro): love the cast, love the period
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
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London, 1940. At the height of the Blitz, the Ministry of Information, Film Division, brings in scriptwriter Catrin Cole (the always marvelous Gemma Arterton: The Girl with All the Gifts) to punch up the “slop” — you know, the girly stuff, the women’s dialogue — of its propaganda pictures. The ministry is particularly eager that one new film will appeal to Americans — and to American mothers and wives — and get them gung-ho to send their sons and husbands off to join the war in Europe. (That film is a very loosely based-on-fact melodrama about the evacuation of Dunkirk, and so Their Finest makes a nice early companion to Christopher Nolan’s upcoming action drama about that same event.)

Amidst all the delightful dry and snarky movie satire, especially centering around Bill Nighy’s (The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) hilarious over-the-hill matinee idol and Sam Claflin’s (Me Before You) snarky screenwriter, is some very sharp feminist commentary about how men are perfectly willing to harness women’s talents and enthusiasm as long as the guys can demean the gals at the same time: “Obviously we can’t pay you as much as the chaps,” Catrin is informed on her first day. (Catrin’s artist husband does not like his wife doing such crass work… though he’s perfectly happy to let her support him while he paints.)

Director Lone Scherfig (The Riot Club) brings her usual witty and keenly observant eye to this snappy dramedy, and the brilliant cast — also featuring Jake Lacy (Miss Sloane) as an American RAF volunteer roped into being an actor — is jovial and touching in equal measure. Based on Lissa Evans’s novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, this one is a real corker.

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Wed, Apr 05, 2017 10:12pm

This sounded like my kind of movie so I was about to E-mail the Manor Theater in Pittsburgh which is more likely to show “foreign” flicks than the big chains. They already had the movie on the schedule for late April!

Sat, Apr 08, 2017 9:32am

I’ve got used to seeing Senate House being used on film as a shorthand for “sinister Art Deco building”, but for once it’s the real thing here – it’s the actual location that the Ministry of Information was using.

Sun, Apr 09, 2017 4:48pm

i think i already missed it in NYC!

reply to  bronxbee
Sun, Apr 09, 2017 5:55pm

Fandango says it’s at the Angelika and City Cinemas Paris, at least through Thursday.

reply to  Bluejay
Sun, Apr 09, 2017 6:47pm

I had SNL on in the background while I was cleaning my apartment for Passover, and I’m pretty sure I saw an ad for the movie, but in the last day or two of frantic cleaning, I can’t trust that anything I see isn’t a hallucination.

Matt Clayton
Matt Clayton
Wed, Apr 26, 2017 4:53pm

I saw this movie last night. What a wonderful find! I’m glad you recommended it.

I hope Gemma Arterton gets some awards love later on for this. It’s the best project she’s done in a while.

Mintas Lanxor
Mintas Lanxor
Sat, Jan 13, 2018 3:14am

What ruined the movie’s credibility for me was the kitchy, amateurish film the screenwriters and the crew produced at the end. It was like this film was the first project for everyone and not just Katrin, but the rest of the crew were supposed to be seasoned pros. How can we take the protagonists seriously if the fruit of their movie-making efforts is so lacking?

There is also an inconsistency in the portrayal of the British moviegoers. In the beginning, they are sophisticated enough to see through the propaganda shorts and laugh at their corniness, but then, at the end, when they’re watching Lilly Sterling, nobody notices the poor professionalism and the embarrassing quality of the whole affair, and their eyes are filled with genuine tears. Give me a break, guys/Lone Scherfig!

So many good, professionally made movies were shot in 1940. That’s another argument against Their Finest’s premise that WW II and unsavory American influence inevitably led to poor quality movie making.