Their Finest (2017)
Directed by Lone Scherfig
Before the tragedy of Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into World War II, England held the brunt of the war effort to resist Hitler. And part of England’s Ministry of Information, the film division, had a very special role in that effort. When an audience sat down in the theater for a feature film, they were often treated with a short video instructing them on how to prepare for an air raid, how to ration vegetables, or how they could otherwise be of help during the ongoing battle. But filmmakers, like scriptwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), were struggling to reach women—since most of their short films were written by men, they weren’t so convincing to the half of the population that was more likely be still be home, not off fighting—so they enlisted the help of a young writer, Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton), to help find and write stories aimed at women. It’s only fitting, then, that BBC Films’ “Their Finest” sees many of its most crucial jobs—director, writers, editor, composer…even the stunt coordinator—filled by women. This practice-what-you-preach effort only gets “Their Finest” so far, however.
Based on the novel “Their Finest Hour and a Half,” by Lissa Evans, “Their Finest” struggles to set a tone. It works best as a lighthearted, heartwarming comedy, but it feels the need to work into its plot the many varying hardships of war that face so many of its characters, either directly or indirectly. Unfortunately, it never devotes enough time to the violence to make the impact felt in the audience. It comes across as contrived, like an inclusion they reluctantly dealt with out of duty. And I agree, that needed to be part of the story. It was just never treated with the proper focus. “Their Finest” also spends so much time reminding you of its setting and plodding through its plot that it fails to provide adequate backstories for its characters or give them decent story arcs. Some of the characters are likable and unique, without being exciting or even interesting.
Thank goodness for the wonderful Gemma Arterton, who works with what she’s given to help lend some life to this story. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s working with Sam Claflin, who gives Tom a unique personality that sets him apart from his costars. When the propaganda picture at the heart of the story shadows the storyline of its filmmakers, “Their Finest” has some purpose and direction. But largely, “Their Finest” tries to play with emotions it never elicited—or deserved to elicit. And at nearly two hours, a story this bumbling feels every bit its runtime. But experienced cast (I forgot to mention Bill Nighy, in a standard Bill Nighy role) and a basic story that feels new enough save “Their Finest” from total demise.