Sunday, April 30, 2017


Novice scribe joins morale-boosting film unit in sharp, funny Their Finest

Okay, I'm a sucker for movies about writers — not an easy subject to get right onscreen, since there's nothing cinematic about watching somebody tapping away at a keyboard.

But a canny filmmaker can make the spark of the creative process visual by showing a pool of writers pinging ideas off of each other, or escalate drama in a succession of ever more ridiculous demands imposed on the writers by whoever is in charge of their project. Oh, and a little romance never hurts.

Lone Scherfig is a very canny director. And she and scriptwriter Gaby Chiappe manage to craft a smart, entertaining femme-centric movie about writers and writing in Their Finest, using all of the above storytelling techniques.

Set in London in 1940, during the Blitz, the story concerns the efforts of a film crew to make a morale-boosting epic to help the war effort. The mood is witty, urbane, and irreverent, but it's not exactly a lighthearted romp, with the specter of death and destruction always just around the corner.

Claflin and Arterton: morale-boosting
Adapted from the Lissa Evans novel Their Finest Hour and a Half (which is a pretty funny title, right there), it's the story of young Welshwoman Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton), who arrives in London with her artist husband, Ellis (Jack Huston).

The dismal canvases he paints are considered "too brutal" to be used in the war effort, so Catrin goes for a job interview at the Ministry of Information: Film Division, for what she thinks is a secretarial position.

But because she's done some advertising copywriting, she's assigned to the scriptwriting unit.

Her new boss, Swain (the ever-droll Richard E. Grant), produces films about the war at home, and they need somebody to inject the "female viewpoint" into their pictures. Of course, Catrin is told, "we can't pay you as much as the chaps" in the scriptwriting pool, but they need her to write what one of her new co-writers, Buckley, calls "the slop" — i.e. women's dialogue.

Arterton with Stirling: dry wit
Young and able-bodied, the acerbic Buckley (sharply caustic Sam Claflin) was called up to fight, but it was decided he'd be much more useful behind a typewriter than a gun; despite his own irreverence, he has an unerring gift for heart-tugging without bathos — leading to the required "morally clear, romantically satisfying" conclusion.

Scherfig's film percolates with acutely funny dialogue and situations. The wonderful Bill Nighy is on hand as an aging ex-matinee idol hoping for a comeback. Jeremy Irons has one funny scene as a Shakespeare-spouting Secretary of War.

Rachael Stirling is a standout as a production assistant in trousers calling herself "Phyl," with a dry wit equal to Buckley's. (No wonder she knows her way around a one-liner: Stirling's real-life mum is the beloved Diana Rigg.)

Like the fictional filmmakers it portrays, Their Finest may not be able to achieve all is conflicting objectives, as the bombs rain down around them. But Scherfig's film continues to engage and surprise us with its wit, skill, and heartfelt emotion.

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