London, 1940: most have gone to war but a few are left behind to entertain the people in this bleak time. The department of war is demanding that happy-ending war movies be churned out for morale.
At any rate, Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest was indeed a boost to my morale. Of course I love Bill Nighy, and he’s at his Nighest, with his signature gestures and snorts. He plays a very vain actor who can’t quite believe he’s perhaps aged past leading-man status. Luckily a diplomatic new writer, Catrin (Gemma Arterton) hired to write “slop” (ie, the female dialogue) appeases him by enlarging the role of the drunk uncle just for him. Convincing her boss Tom (Sam Claflin) to let her do this is as infuriating and degrading as you’d imagine – until he starts to fall in love with her, of course.
Keep in mind that though they’re writing about the Miracle of Dunkirk, the war is still raging, and Catrin must decide whether to risk losing the thread of her story every time the air raid sirens go off. The cramped office remains nearly a sanctuary but outside the city is badly bruised.
The war was a time when, with young men absent, older gentlemen and women stepped up to get the work done. Catrin is constantly reminded, however, that her employment status won’t hold up when the boys return. She mustn’t get too attached to feeling useful or creative. The war makes everything tenuous.
But despite this sounding rather dire, it is very much a comedy, and a bit of a love letter to film making. The laughs are plentiful, robust. The stars are endlessly charming. I haven’t much cared for Sam Claflin and don’t have much of an opinion on Gemma Arterton, but both are excellent here. Nighy of course, is a prize scene-stealer, and he deftly makes away with every one he’s in. Sometimes the war is seen through rose-tinted glasses (a nostalgic effect?) but when the war does assert itself, it leaves a crater. This one’s not to be missed.