England, 1940. People walk down rainy, cobblestone streets. Children innocently play in back lanes. The wail of an air raid siren is heard. This is the story of a war-time England that lives on the brink of destruction. Hitler’s Luftwaffe passes over without warning, dropping bombs indiscriminately on the populace below. Yet the common man and woman buckle down and push on.
At first, Their Finest ambles around in the dark, trying to find its feet. The first half hour is laboured by the layered tension of a stilted love affair and the crushing need of the main characters to make ends meet. Immediately, other more exciting war and drama-centred films spring to mind, and you feel as if you’ve seen it before.
But the pace soon picks up and it becomes clear that this is not another tent-pole action film. Soon we are enamoured by what the British do best: drama and convincing acting.
We’re introduced to Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) who attends an interview for a secretary position, but soon discovers the job is a front for something entirely different. Catrin learns that her involvement is as a scriptwriter with the Ministry for Information, Film Division. Her task: to help write a story of ‘authenticity and optimism’ that will become a triumphant propaganda film based on real events of rescue in Dunkirk. The challenge therein is to paint a picture of a strong Britain, while at the same time rallying the Americans to a call to action. It is when the characters start showing their ingenuity in the writing process that the story begins to flow. The viewer is inclined to forget it’s really a film and is a gripping story about everyday people.
The enlisted soldiers who protect the shores, the deplorable loss of life, and the distraction of small comforts like the cinema are part of the English way of life during The Blitz. These aspects seem to mirror what’s going on in the embattled modern world of today. The film also serves as a reminder to ourselves that – as Catrin’s ministry superior says: ‘It seems that when life is so very precarious, it’s an awful shame to waste it.’
In sum, Their Finest is fine period drama with a difference. Jesse Short
‘Their Finest’ is in cinemas now.