This utterly charming film set in World War II-era London contains a textbook example of screen chemistry. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.
Screen chemistry is an odd thing; often you only notice it when it isn’t there. (See: far too many Hollywood romantic comedies.) But “Their Finest,” an utterly charming film set in World War II-era London, contains a textbook example. Gemma Arterton plays Catrin Cole, a young advertising copywriter hired by the British Ministry of Information to write “women’s dialogue” for wartime propaganda feature films; Sam Claflin is Tom Buckley, a wry fellow screenwriter who’s not sure that her presence is necessary. Catrin’s married, Tom’s not — and so first they become co-workers (he grudgingly admits, eventually, that she’s “doing a good job”), then friends. Watching them, you start noticing how he looks at her like she’s a fascinating puzzle that he’s trying to figure out, and how she blushes just a bit when he’s around, and how effortlessly these two actors convey that they belong together.
It’s one of many pleasures in Lone Scherfig’s film, based on a 2009 novel by Lissa Evans and drenched in a sweet nostalgia that only very rarely tips into sentimentality. The plot’s mostly centered on the making of one movie, based on a true incident involving a pair of twin sisters who set out in their father’s shabby boat to help evacuate wounded soldiers at Dunkirk. It’s a tale that, as the executives at the Ministry gleefully observe, has everything: “Authenticity, optimism and a dog.”
We watch the casting process (Bill Nighy, eyebrows perpetually raised, is a delight as a pompous veteran actor), the location shoot (note the 1940s version of CGI), and the way that the filmmakers and cast form an impromptu family. Along the way, we’re reminded of the new roles that women took on during that time, and how the shadow of war affected every day and every life, even as they soldiered on. And there’s one scene, where Sam sits moodily smoking one evening, and Catrin appears behind him as if caught in a moonlit dream, and … well, that’s why we watch movies, isn’t it?
Movie Review ★★★½
‘Their Finest,’ with Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Helen McCrory, Jake Levy. Directed by Lone Scherfig, from a screenplay by Gaby Chiappe, based on the novel “Their Finest Hour and a Half” by Lissa Evans. 117 minutes. Rated R for some language and a scene of sexuality. Several theaters.