Not all propaganda is created equal.
“Their Finest [Blu-ray]” captures the other, more positive side of the word. The film follows British filmmakers rallying their countrymen in the early days of World War II.
It’s a fresh angle on a subject that should be all tapped out by now. It’s also a love story and tribute to the moving image all in one.
And whenever the story takes a cornball twist, you’re more than ready to excuse it away. First class filmmaking will have that effect.
Gemma Arterton plays Catrin Cole, drafted to punch up patriotic scripts aimed at a weary British people. Even propaganda needs a woman’s touch, don’t you know. Or, as they say in the movie, “slog.”
The group’s next project, centered around Dunkirk, reflects the country’s dire situation. Irregular Nazi bombings are killing friends and neighbors alike, and the United States has yet to enter the war.
So what can a gaggle of actors do? Tell stories of heroism and honor, the kind that remind audiences why they’re sacrificing so much. Their new film might even coax a budding superpower to join the war on their side.
FAST FACT: “Their Finest” earned $3.6 million at the U.S. Box office and $5.2 million in the U.K.
Modern films often lack the storytelling fire of literature for a simple reason. They lack detail, those tiny elements that make stories and characters pop.
Not “Their Finest.” Each scene brings a wealth of those flourishes. A glance. A reference. A line of dialogue that hits home. Hard. This is storytelling, something infrequently seen on movie screens today. When today’s screenwriters add a detail it’s often foreshadowing or a clumsy plot device.
Here, it’s all about establishing texture and tone. And it works marvelously.
Director Lone Scherfig (“An Education”) deftly balances subplots that could clash in lesser hands. The movie’s rom-com elements succumb to some of the genre’s wearying tics, but you’ll still silently cheer when the characters give in to their emotions.
Scherig and co-star Bill Nighy team for the film’s cagiest character. Nighy plays a fading movie star aghast at taking roles beneath his stature. He’s vain and predictably high strung, a dandy in the truest sense of the word. Yet the screenplay won’t let that caricature stand.
Nighy’s Ambrose Hilliard rallies, just like the British people.
Arterton and Sam Claflin (“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay”) make an appealing duo. Their “will they or won’t they” courtship suffers from some clunky reveals, but their chemistry crackles as intended. Few will anticipate the third act twist that seals their fate, though.
Arterton’s performance is a thing of beauty and a reminder why her star should be shining brighter by now. She’s convincing both as a young woman struggling to find her place in a terrifying environment and with her connection to a beau (Jack Huston) who might not be her soul mate.
“Their Finest’ brings a secure feminine touch to its story. Catrin bends but won’t break over the era’s garden-variety sexism. Her reactions aren’t of the 21st-century variety, thank goodness. The film’s period spell remains intact from start to finish. She’s a heroine worth admiring all the same.
FAST FACT: British actress Gemma Arterton, 31, says she encountered modern sexism early in her U.S. film career. “I was only 21 when I first went but I was never girly; I’ve always been quite physical and sensual as an actor but I would be told, ‘You’re too sexy for that role’, or whatever. I think they can be a bit scared of that in Hollywood – they like their sexiness to be quite… contained.”
It’s hard to watch “Their Finest” and not compare these filmmakers to their modern-day counterparts. Today’s Hollywood is often more interested in denigrating current war efforts than cheering them on. Remember the flood of anti-Iraq War films? Or, more recently, the Afghanistan satire “War Machine?”
The comparisons are complicated, of course. World War II imperiled the freedoms we hold dear. The western world was literally at stake. The Iraq War was one of choice. Battling terrorism involves tough moral choices.
Recent films like “Patriot’s Day” and “Lone Survivor” are noteworthy exceptions. It’s still sad to see so few filmmakers taking it upon themselves to rally the U.S. people in the ongoing War on Terror.
“Their Finest [Blu-ray]” arrives with a director’s commentary track plus “Flickers of Hope: The Making of Their Finest.” The obligatory short features the usual back slapping as well as some tasty anecdotes from cast and crew.
Nighy puts the film, and its historical context, in the proper perspective.
“They weren’t in the business of being dishonest, so much as trying to keep a country that was in a terrible situation in some kind of place of optimism and hope,” Nighy says of the filmmakers reflected in the movie.