Movie Review: Their Finest - British humour at its best
Their Finest (M)
117 mins ★★★★
It's 1940, wartime England, and a hardy bunch of civil servants at the Ministry of Information-Film Division are busily creating motion pictures for public consumption: stories filled with "authority informed by optimism". You might call it propaganda, but really it's all about morale-building – showing "real life with the boring bits cut out", as one producer explains – so that the British people can keep their chins up as they duck for cover from German bombs.
This is the delightful premise of director Lone Scherfig's (An Education, One Day) latest film, a typically character-driven tale which delivers a witty, fast-paced script through the expert performances of Bill Nighy, Gemma Arterton and a host of familiar British faces (notably the fabulous Rachael Stirling and Richard E. Grant).
Arterton plays Catrin Cole, a young Welshwoman who is employed by the Ministry to provide a female angle and tasked with writing "the slop" – the derogatory colloquial term for girl-talk and women's dialogue. But when Catrin gets wind of a true story in which brave local women make a daring contribution to the war effort, she seeks to put females at the forefront and make a morale-boosting movie out of their tale.
Initial cynicism that it'll be Nighy "doing what Nighy does" is put to rest because yes, Nighy rolls out his typically sardonic charm but he provides most of the laughs (and with this especially droll and entertaining script, there are plenty of those). Similarly, Arterton (whom I've never enjoyed) plays a totally likeable character you want to root for. The biggest casting shock came in the closing credits at the realisation that script-writer Tom Buckley was, in fact, played by Sam Claflin, star of the derided and morally dubious Me Before You. His turn as the tacitly love-struck Buckley redeems him completely in my eyes.
The story of movie-making but not as you know it, Their Finest is a prime example of the Brits doing humour as they do it best. All the actors seem to be having a whale of a time, and it's impossible not to feel the same way.