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Their Finest
Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy star in Their Finest. Photo: Transmission Films

Keep the home fires burning

During the darkest days of World War II, a team of British filmmakers must re-ignite the courage of those on the home front. Dianne Jensen reviews.

Those tasked with the job of spinning a dispiriting reality into an uplifting narrative will recognise the dilemma faced by would-be screenwriter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) in Their Finest, Lone Scherfig’s new film set during the 1940 German blitzkrieg.

London is being hammered night and day, and the Dunkirk evacuation has shaken public confidence. The Ministry of Information is desperate to raise morale, especially among women.

When Catrin hears about twin sisters (Lily and Francesca Knight) piloting their father’s boat from Southend to Dunkirk to rescue wounded British soldiers, she recognises the propaganda potential. Although the real story is disappointing, Catrin and prickly co-writer Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) are determined to transform the narrative of defeat into one of resilience and defiance.

Does the truth matter or is the putative rescue in fact a parable which speaks a greater truth about courage in the face of overwhelming odds? The head of the Film Division (Richard E. Grant) makes a nice distinction in his description of their mandate to deliver “authenticity with optimism”.

The backdrop to the production of this film-within-a-film is the bleak reality of life in a city under constant bombardment. Neighbours, colleagues and friends are killed with a shocking randomness that underscores the grit required to carry on.

And carry on they do, clinging to the props of formality and duty, armoured by the wry self-deprecation which traditionally signals British humour.

Along with the chiaroscuro setting there’s a charmingly old-fashioned feel about Their Finest and the comedic skills of Bill Nighy, who plays the washed-up film star Ambrose Hilliard, provide an affectionate nod to the British cinematic icons of the past.

There is a surprising power to this film, which twists and turns as the characters are buffeted by the indiscriminate carnage. Catrin becomes the wounded storyteller, one who draws deep into her own pain in order to touch others. At the end, when she slips into a cinema to watch the finished production, the viewer truly understands the power of story to re-ignite the human spirit.

Dianne Jensen

Their Finest will screen at the 2017 Young at Heart Film Festival at Brisbane’s Palace Centro cinemas (20–26 April) before its limited release in Queensland cinemas.

Their Finest
Director: Lone Scherfig
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Sam Clafin, Billy Nighy
2016, rated M

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