Like one of David Hockney’s paintings about painting in which you see or feel his presence, Their Finest is a film about a film and a very emotive and beautiful one at that.
What could have been an overly romanticized depiction of Lissa Evans’s wartime novel, Their Finest Hour and a Half, is pleasantly not, balancing reality with the “glamorous” world of moviemaking. Gemma Arterton plays the talented and bold Catrin Cole as the avant-garde writer we imagine her to be. Her bonnet hat, effortless ‘40s hairstyle and high-waisted skirt make her character even more enviable.
Another actor whose character is exactly as you hoped is Billy Nighy. He is the quintessential Ambrose Hilliard: debonair, witty and hilariously self-aware of his old(er) age and stardom. Donning a short silk scarf and three-piece suit, Hilliard delivers perfect one-liners throughout the movie. At his favorite lunch restaurant, for instance, he jumps up from the table during a meeting with his agent because he is fed up with how sour life has become: “War has skimmed off the cream and all we’re left with are the curds.”
Playing opposite Catrin and Hilliard as the propaganda film’s lead writer, Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) also puts wartime life and the purpose of movies, perhaps more than ever, in a way that sticks with you. When justifying his fluffing of reality for the film’s sake, he says, “It’s real life without the boring bits. You can’t let facts get in the way of fiction.” Later he adds, “Stories are structure. When things go bad, it’s a part of the plan—unlike life.”
These snippets of truth are sprinkled throughout the movie, transporting you to a time when something went wrong in your life, something you couldn’t control. Their Finest also takes you to a place you’ve likely only seen in other movies or maybe heard about from your grandparents’ generation—1940’s London. The sepia tint of the underground, army men in brown uniforms, box-like cars, metal tea kettles and sturdy typewriters are brilliant timepieces and cinematographic touches.
The setting of Their Finest is a fashionable and dangerous place to be, but a place you admire nonetheless. The actors, too, are charming even though their character’s lives are, for the most part, not covetable.
You want to continue on with Catrin when her world crumbles, you want Hilliard to tell you something meaningful as he perfects his appearance and most importantly, you want to see how it ends, even if a film about a film can only have one kind of ending.