BBC Films’ Their Finest: In The Dug Outs Of Propaganda

London 1940. With the country’s morale up in the air, Catrin (Gemma Arterton), an inexperienced screenwriter along with a cast and crew are tasked to make a film to put the great back in Great Britain and lift the nation’s spirits. And perhaps, force America to join the war in the process. Partnered with screenwriter Buckley (Sam Claflin) and eccentric actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), the trio embark to shoot a picture that will rekindle a fire in the heart of a nation. This is a witty and intelligent film portraying the life of a young woman trying to find her voice in the mayhem of war, and the movie business.

Storytelling is propaganda, and this film puts this on display when our characters are tasked by the Ministry of Information to make a picture about Dunkirk. It acts as a good hype-inciter for Nolan’s summer epic, a remake of the 1958 war picture that tells the tale of a rescue mission to pick up any surviving allied troops from the Dunkirk waters off the coast of France. In a battle against workplace sexism, Catrin gets a job writing “slob” aka women’s dialogue on the picture. Let’s not forget to mention having to deal with theatrically amusing pompousness of Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy).

In my opinion, Gemma Arterton is a great talent and criminally underrated
(Their Finest, BBC Films)

Their Finest is more Briton than Britain. It’s engaging, well-constructed and the acting performances are flipping good. It’s a British film if there ever was one. Arterton (The Girl With All The Gifts) gives a nuanced performance as Catrin. Sam Claflin is getting about of late. With each performance I see of his, the more I warm to him. Claflin (Me Before You) is going places and I can’t wait to see him in the adaptation the du Maurier novel, My Cousin Rachel opposite Rachel Weisz. As Buckley, he broods yet he thaws out as the movie progresses, much to do with the charms of Arterton’s Catrin.

Much akin to the recent Dad’s Army remake, this is a very British cast. Seriously, they couldn’t have gotten a more British cast if they tried. Bill Nighy’s Ambrose Hilliard reminds me of Ralph Fiennes’ Laurence Laurentz in ‘Hail Caeser!‘ by the Coen Brothers. He’s this thespian who takes his art very seriously. Nighy was made for this part. Bill Nighy plays Laurence Laurentz and it’s fan-bloody-tastic. The film bloats itself with great British talent including Richard E. Grant (Logan), Jeremy Irons (The Borgias) and Eddie Marsden (Jonathan Strange) with Helen McCrory (Penny Dreadful) sharing many comically flirtatious scenes with Nighy. Great.

Bill Nighy’s scenes with Gemma Arterton in the second half made me bust a gut
(Their Finest, BBC Films)

I am a period drama fiend and this is the latest addition to my period drama pallet. From the sets to the few examples of effects (for the Blitz) to the cinematography to the score, I lapped it up. Despite being labelled as a comedy, there was enough brutal realities in there to warrant the drama label, inclulding a pivotal scene where Catrin is walking around her neighbourhood the morning after a really bad air raid. And we are not witness to that typical fairy tale ending that period dramas are so used to. That was a nice touch. I do hate for films to be predictable.

My main issue isn’t really an issue, but more a nitpick. The predictableness in the film are merely narrative cliches that are all too prevalent in films of this nature. The humorous script is very Dad’s Army/Fool’s And Horses-esque with that Blyton’s Britain aura to it. Whilst much of the comic comes from Bill Nighy. Though, you may have some laughs if you’re used to the humour of movies from the 1940s and 1950s. Their Finest is a throwback to those sort of movies. Costume design aside, I now want to watch the movie they worked on. Through the eyes of our characters, it really goes to show that there ain’t no business like show business.

Buckley (Sam Claflin) and Catrin (Gemma Arterton) in BBC Films’ latest period piece
(Their Finest, BBC Film)

With great performances from Arterton, Buckley and Nighy, the supporting cast can’t be forgotten. Jack Huston as Catrin’s “not husband” is interesting to watch, as he was the symbol for the sexist ideologies that defined the still very Victorian-minded men of the time. Jeremy Irons always delivers. But it was Helen McCrory  (Peaky Blinders) as Sophie Smith that made me smile. If we could have more original stories like these that weren’t always pushed to the limited release slot in cinemas, I’d be a happier man indeed.

A jolly good, inspiring story that shows art for art’s sake and not just another money-making scheme