Movies about making movies may just be my favourite kind. It’s a meta Inception-esque sub-genre that has provided us with some of cinema’s greatest and most memorable moments. Think Singin’ In the Rain, Mulholland Drive, 8 1/2, Hail, Caesar!, Hugo and even Tropic Thunder. There’s so much potential in the making of the movies – from the creative process through to shooting, post-production and release, there’s high stakes, high tension and high drama. With so much on the line for so many people, clashes and chaos are bound to ensue. Their Finest follows this format except there’s even more on the line than usual – set during WWII, its characters also have the morale of the entire nation during the darkest of times to consider.
It’s 1940. It is the job of the British ministry to produce propaganda films that will entertain whilst also motivating and inspiring. Realising their films are in vast need of an ‘authentic’ voice, the ministry hires Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) to team up with the witty, yet cynical and rather embittered, lead screenwriter Buckley (Sam Claflin) to produce an epic that will be a call to arms as well as warm the hearts of the nation.
Quite simply, this film is an absolute delight from start to finish. Films set in the era have a hard time in balancing nostalgia with truth, blending humour and tragedy and showing how bravery can indeed come in many different forms – be that fighting on the beaches or risking everything to promote the happiness and wellbeing of others. Their Finest intelligently, inattentively and inspiringly portrays a love letter to cinema and the people we have to thank for it.
In a way, it seems familiar and oddly comforting. It’s part-comedy, part-drama with shades of screwball-comedy, so manages to be a movie that will make you laugh and, if you’re like me anyway, make you cry. Aspects of it could be viewed as being somewhat by-the-numbers yet it manages to pull off one or two surprises. It’s one of the best period dramas we’ve had in years and that’s made all the more wonderful by how genuine and heartfelt it all is.
Much of the credit for this has to go to the cast who are all immensely charming and make watching it a ruddy wonderful experience. Arterton is truly brilliant, providing a heartfelt performance that’s mesmerising to watch and believable. Her Catrin is an excellent lead character, presenting a voice little seen in cinema, and reminds us once again, were it really needed, that she is one of Britain’s most underappreciated actresses. Her on-screen sparring partner Claflin brings freshness to the trope of the bespectacled snarky and sardonic writer who hides away his soft side. He’s immensely charismatic in providing the cynicism to all the geniality, the bitterness to Arterton’s sweet. Bill Nighy plays Bill Nighy – more observation than criticism.
A special mention has to go to Jake Lacy as Carl Lundbeck. Though a smaller role it is one of the most memorable. An actor possessing the right blend of self-awareness and deprecation in order to create bad acting is a rare treat, as effective and laughter-inducing as Jean Hagan as Lina Lamont in Singin’ In The Rain. His character’s first attempt at acting is genuinely side-splitting stuff.
Watching this film is a genuine pleasure. It’s a well-told story with exquisite mise-en-scene, costumes, lighting and staging. It’ll fill you up with warmth due to its sincerity and intelligence – acting as a much-needed catharsis for our times.
Their Finest is in UK cinemas from April 21st.