Jacob Richardson | 18/04/2017
Scherfig’s Their Finest, sombre melodrama and war-time romance, works better as an intriguing look at cinema during World War 2 than it does as the dual piece it aims to be.
Their Finest follows Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton), a welsh woman in London with her artist boyfriend during the second world war. Catrin finds a new job at the department of information, writing the screenplay for the latest film about Dunkirk with lauded screenwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin). Queue the predictable love story which ensues, seeing Catrin becoming the center of affection.
Director Lone Scherfig oscillates violently between comedy and drama, and it jars. Tragic scenes abut hilarious ones, and Bill Nighy’s narcissistic actor Ambrose Hilliard often switches between the light and dark in the same sentence. It’s enough to give one emotional whiplash. It also results in an odd crossover in certain scenes. When Catrin and her boyfriend have it out in the street, or when there is a fatal accident in the studio, it feels too comedic to have any real emotional heft.
Comedically though, the film is really strong, and this is in no small part thanks to Bill Nighy. His comedic timing is perfect, as always, and he single-handedly lends the film the credibility it needs to manage those out-of-place moments of light-heartedness. Similarly, Jake Lacy’s performance as Carl Lundbeck is frequently hilarious.
The main duo bring believability to the love story, and there are some truly great scenes between them. In particular, when they are rapidly spit balling ideas for the script or bouncing ideas off each other, the sense of romantic escapism is strong. Alas, incredulous plot developments undermine some of their progress, and wind up reducing the effect.
Ultimately, it winds up being the semi-secret history of British cinema during the war that is most effective in this misshapen movie. Being exposed to the way that films were made, the government influence on pictures then, and the interrelationships between actors, screenwriters and directors is a joy to anyone interested in cinema. The period setting tinges it all with a feeling of nostalgia and agelessness, which only makes the behind-the-curtain look even more enticing.
While the back and forth between comedy and drama is erratic, a sometimes solid love epic, beautiful performance from Bill Nighy and insight into the inner workings of war time British cinema make Their Finest an interesting watch.