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Director: Lone Scherfig
Writers: Gaby Chiappe (screenplay), Lissa Evans (novel)
Stars: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy
Review by Gilbert Seah
Danish director Lorne Scherfig broke into the international film scene with his first film ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS and has continued to impress both audiences and critics alike with films like THE RIOT CLUB and AN EDUCATION, these two films demonstrating his flexibility in his subjects. His latest is again a grand piece of fine filmmaking, a period piece that celebrates the role of women (seldom seen in the war genre) during the Second World War.
The film based on the novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans and written by Gaby Chiappe puts the female into the picture. The main protagonist is Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton star of films like ORPHAN and THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS), a “slop” scriptwriter, charged with bringing a female perspective to war films produced by the British Ministry of Information’s Film Division. Slop is the degrading term given for ‘women’s talk’. Her current project is a feature inspired by stories of British civilians rescuing soldiers after the retreat at Dunkirk. Catrin’s artist husband (Jack Huston) looks down on her job, despite the fact that it is paying the rent. At least lead scenarist Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), who at first pokes fun at the female effort appreciates her contribution.
There is one great dialogue in the film that celebrates the romanticism of movies. “In war, some do not come back home at all. Some come back heroes and some do not come back as heroes. The film that is to be made must make it worth the audience’s time to sit through it.” These are the words that are used to inspire the making of this otherwise propaganda film that would eventually turn the lives of many a British citizen. The film is used to create patriotism to send the men to fight in battle and the women to work in the factories manufacturing ammunition and weapons.
Performances are all impressive all round, led by both Bill Nighy as a pompous past his prime actor who is never afraid of showing off and Gemma Arteton in the title role. Jeremy Irons in a cameo (praising the power of the dramatic arts) deserves mention in one of the film’s funniest segments.
Besides the lovely period detail of the costumes and sets, the look of war-torn Britain is also magnificently created – reminiscent of the best of war films like John Boorman’s HOPE AND GLORY and Guy Hamilton’s BATTLE OF BRITAIN. The film in a film is to be shot in Devon, Devon standing in for Dunkirk where the film in the film is set.
One great and memorable British propaganda films is Alberto Cavalcanti’s 1942 effort WENT THE DAY WELL? (one of my favourite films of all time) where British housewives discover their village invaded by German paratroopers posing as English soldiers. The Brits must have put in quite the effort in their propaganda films. THEIR FINEST is also really funny in may parts, making the drama totally entertaining for both sexes despite the female slant.
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