Their Finest wasn’t on my radar going into Sundance this year, but it turned out to be one of my more enjoyable screenings. Based on the novel, Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans, it focuses on British propaganda filmmakers during WWII. In the process, it’s a celebration of cinema and filmmaking and, especially, women’s roles in it.
When Catrin (Gemma Arterton) responds to a post for a secretarial job at the Ministry of Information, she quickly learns that it’s actually for a scriptwriter position. A beleaguered producer wants to shoot a patriotic feature length film with more emotional appeal than the shorts and newsreels that precede screenings, she is employed to write “the slop” (women’s dialogue) alongside her co-writer Buckley (Sam Claflin). “Married” to a struggling artist, the job is a financial boost…they need the money. As the project takes shape, they cast aging star Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy in another hilarious turn) to round out the performers. As shooting progresses, Catrin is drawn further away from her boyfriend and closer to Buckley, but the film doesn’t conclude in typical Hollywood fashion, which deepens its appeal.
Their Finest feels even more timely given our current “debate” about and concern for facts, truth, and alternative facts. Quite unlike the current administration, Their Finest suggests that true stories don’t always have to be factual to inspire a nation, but they damn well better be honest.