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Review: Their Finest

Gemma Arton’s finest? A proper gander at propaganda

20 April, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Gemma Arterton in Their Finest

Directed by Lone Scherfig
Certificate 12a 

This adaptation of Kentish Town-based author Lissa Evans’ marvellous comic novel Their Finest Hour and a Half translates well to screen – and feels unintentionally timely.

Evans’ book, which tells the story of a woman scriptwriter working on propaganda movies in the Second World War, creates an image of a united Britain facing down a common enemy, of how a new deal was forged through the crucible of conflict to set up the Welfare State and the NHS.

Evans drew on a range of real-life characters to create the story of film-makers in the Ministry of Information, and shows how the war wasn’t just won on the beaches of Normandy or in the skies above Kent. The Home Front effort drew in artists such as Abram Games, John Piper and Graham Sutherland, and film-makers and actors ranging from Humphrey Jennings to David Lean and Noel Coward.

ut what was less well known was the role women played in the propaganda war. The legends of the women who went into the munitions factories has been well chronicled – but Evans highlighted people like Diana Morgan, who went to Ealing Studios and helped pen some of the most inspiring films of the period.

Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is the softly spoken Welsh woman who has written a cartoon strip for a newspaper with a catchy pay-off line. Her ability to write “slop” – as women’s lines are described – does not go unnoticed at the Ministry of Information, so she is recruited to help write the story of twin sisters who pinch their father’s fishing boat to head to rescue soldiers at Dunkirk.

The film takes us through a variety of plot arcs: Catrin’s relationship with her struggling painter partner Ellis (Jack Huston), a Spanish Civil War veteran, Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), the ageing and arrogant actor, and, above all, her blossoming friendship with fellow screenwriter Buckley (Sam Claflin).

This isn’t the most polished of films. It meanders in places and has plot turns that in the novel work but look clunky on screen.

But overall it doesn’t matter too much. The cast is terrific, the story endearing (if you can leave your cynicism at home), and above all, it is a timely reminder of our nation during what increasingly seems to genuinely be our nation’s Finest Hour. It is a reminder of the spirit of ’45 – the idea that we are all in this together, and the only way for our nation to run well is for us all to work for one another. As we launch ourselves into the most divisive general election in decades, remembering what it was like for those who fought and won the war against fascism and then also won the peace is no bad thing – and while this is just a small-scale comedy, as the producers of war-time propaganda films will attest, every little thing helps.


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