Finally, audiences can see what will be one of the best love stories this year. (“Maudie” is a close rival.) Premiering at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival and then the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, “Their Finest” is getting a wider release in theaters this week. Starring Gemma Arterton (Catrin), Sam Claflin (Tom), and Bill Nighy (Ambrose Hilliard), and directed by Lone Scherfig, this movie-making love story set amidst the bombing of WWII as it pushes the envelope of women’s equality will capture your heart as you shed a few tears and have a few chuckles. While the entire cast shines, Nighy finally gets a chance to show us the depths of his talents. “Their Finest” is truly one of the finest films to see this year.
Catrin (Arterton) and injured war veteran and aspiring artist Ellis Cole (Jack Huston) live in cramped, dingy quarters in the center of London. Making ends meet in this environment is difficult as Ellis’ career just isn’t taking off. In search of a new job, Catrin lands a screenwriter’s position, initially unbeknownst to her, in order to write “the slop” aka women’s dialogue. Accepting the position, at significantly less than a man would be paid, Catrin discovers a new-found sense of independence and influence, but there is a price to be paid.
Of course, in this time period, women are not considered equals and working twice as hard with just as much talent (if not more), proves to be exactly what Catrin needs. Her eyes are opened to the possibilities and opportunities as she brings a new perspective to the silver screen—women as the heroes. Her eyes are also opened to love in its true sense as she and the reluctant co-writer Tom Buckley (Claflin) work side by side. Catrin’s ability to understand people allow her to gain the confidence of the waning star Ambrose Hilliard (Nighy). While it is a subdued and period-appropriate love story, it is Nighy’s character that brings out the laughs. Hilliard is the aging actor who denies what he sees in the mirror. He’s high-maintenance and condescending, but as the story develops, we find that pretentious exterior melting away thanks to Catrin’s cleverness. Carl Lundbeck (Jake Lacy) also gives us reason to laugh aloud with his All-American good looks but no ability to act in this made for London film.
Clever is exactly the word to describe “Their Finest.” The novel upon which the screenplay is based is written by Lissa Evans, “Their Finest Hour and a Half.” Gaby Chiappe developed the screenplay and Lone Scherfig found a way to bring this dramatic, charming, and often-times funny love story to life. Written, directed, and starring women, the film gives viewers a new perspective on female-driven films. “Their Finest” has heart and depth allowing the humorous aspects of life to perfectly balance the tragedies experienced. It’s some of the best “slop” in any love story I’ve ever heard. While the film centers upon Catrin, that’s not to say that the remainder of the cast lacks depth and development—quite the contrary. Every role augments one another and the viewer gains a complete understanding of the time, the characters, and truly connects with each of them.
Arterton’s reserved performance creates the subtleties expected for the 1940’s. She portrays a woman who is smart yet still learning her way amidst a changing and very dangerous world. She is simply captivating in every scene as we find empathy and understand each and every emotion. Claflin isn’t your typical leading man, however, he too finds a way to gain your trust and your heart. In this old-fashioned love story, we are transported into the film, rooting for the two to allow their feelings to be revealed to themselves and live happily ever after. Nighy’s performance is incomparable. His character is complex and superficial all together. It’s a difficult role that only someone as seasoned and talented as Nighy could possibly pull off. His off-kilter humor creates a sense of love for this initially rather pompous man. While he is a supporting character, he is vital to the film.
“Their Finest” is a film that had I not have seen, I would have missed out on one of the best films of the year. How often do you find a beautiful love story with a female lead filled with tempered romance and humor set in a time of war? Never…until now. This cinematically brilliant film allows the story to shine among extraordinarily talented actors. Of course none of this would be possible without an equally brilliant script and direction. “Their Finest” is our finest in theaters now.