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Their Finest - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Their Finest
Directing: B+
Acting: B
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B

"Their Finest what?" you might reasonably ask. Well, the title of the novel on which this movie is based sheds a bit of light, as it was called Their Finest Hour and a Half, about the making of a British propaganda film during World War II. I guess that title was regarded as too much of a mouthful, and so it was shortened -- and any real meaning done away with altogether. Also, this movie itself is actually just shy of two hours. Obviously Their Finest Two Hours doesn't quite convey the same play on words as the original novel title either. In any case, Their Finest tells you nothing about the movie, and as such the very title works against it.

On the one hand, it's too bad. This is a compelling concept: Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is one of many women called to the work force in the absence of men who have gone off to war, but the work she does is unique: she's writing the script of a movie the Ministry of Information, Film Division hopes to use as a means of persuading America to get involved in the war. Seeing women buck convention, especially well before much in the way of advancing feminism, is always fun. Consider what Catrin's colleague Ellis (Jack Huston) means when he says they need her to "write the slop." The "slop," evidently, is their word for women's dialogue. Well, Catrin is here to write it, and elevate the story above such connotations.

The relative disappointment of Their Finest, then, is that while it touches on very subtle meta commentary on the nature of writing movies, it also falls victim to overly conventional storytelling of its own. Ultimately, Catrin's story becomes much more about finding and keeping a man than about her accomplishments. When the movie begins, it does not feel as though that's where this is going. But then it goes to well worn, by the numbers territory. Right down to a rousing score when the onscreen kiss real-life script writer Gaby Chiappe evidently thinks we've all been waiting for. Or maybe producers or studio heads dictated that this movie contain such an element. Who knows?

To the credit of this film, it does also turn that will-they-or-won't they contrivance on its head a bit: a twist takes the love story angle in an unexpected direction. It's even cleverly foreshadowed earlier in the story. Alas, it still doesn't quite make up for how much unnecessary romance takes over the story overall.

The propaganda film these characters are all working on, the fact that they are tasked by the government to give it a "female angle" to cater to female audiences, and the casting of an aging, narcissistic actor (played charmingly by Bill Nighy) who ultimately defers to the talents of a typically ignored woman -- all this stuff is far more interesting than any romance assumed to be required. Come to think of it, half an hour of that stuff could have been cut, making the movie perfect for retaining that original title, Their Finest Hour and a Half. What perfect opportunity for more clever self-referential subtlety! There's a fair amount of missed opportunity here.

To be fair, most people with any interest in this movie will like it just fine. That is, if they bother to watch it to begin with, and who out there has even heard of Their Finest? It might just be discovered by a few people on some streaming platform in a few months. And then they'll say, "Well, that was all right." They won't likely think much about how close it comes to being derailed by unnecessary romance, but they won't regard it as especially memorable either. If it weren't for the undermining of its own undercurrent of feminism, this movie could have been better than all right.

Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy are fine in THEIR FINEST.

Overall: B
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