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TIFF Review: Their Finest – “A genuine pleasure to watch”

Their Finest Hour and A HalfDirected by Lone Sherfig

It’s always a pleasant surprise when you go into a film with no expectations and discover something quite delightful.  Such is the case with Their Finest, the newest from Danish director Lone Scherfig (An Education, The Riot Club).  In this romantic comedy set during the Blitz of London during World War II, light is brought to a grim reality that explores how cinema influences us in our darkest times.

Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton, with 3 films in the festival this year) is a writer hired by the British Ministry of Information’s Film Division to attempt to bring some female perspective to their movies.  She is to work alongside another screenwriter, Buckley (Sam Claflin) in order to bring forth the tales of “authenticity and optimism” that the ministry wishes to inspire the general population with during the war.  The latest features two sisters who take a boat to help the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Cast in the film is a pompous, past his prime actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy) who seems to be known for only one role and relies on Cole to bring him greater and better lines.  Looking to break into the American market, they also bring on board a US war hero (Jack Lacy) who is hilariously clueless as an actor and looks to Hilliard for mentorship.

Shooting on site in Devon, Cole begins to come into her own as a talented screenwriter, and her and Buckley grow ever closer as they work side by side to perfect their passion project.  Therein lies the romance part of ‘romantic comedy’, but while there is some predictability to the story there are also moments that jolt you back into the stark reality in which these characters live.  Scherfig is effectively able to change atmosphere as quickly as a bomb drop to remind you of the danger lurking in the skies.

Working in period film is clearly a comfort zone for Scherfig who has an eye for immediately establishing her setting.  Her work in the 1960’s set An Education was stunning and her attention to detail for her 1940’s period piece is no different.  The colours, dress, and character mannerisms are spot on, allowing for authenticity.  The dialogue is witty and fast paced with banter passing between characters to great effect (fans of Gilmore Girls will be right at home here!).  The script serves as a reminder of how far we’ve come in some aspects, while a comment about Cole clearly not being able to be paid as well as her male counterparts sadly demonstrates that there are some areas that have remained exactly the same for decades.

While Gemma Arterton beautifully encompasses her character with grace and sensitivity, and Sam Claflin produces one of his best performances, it is Bill Nighy who really steals the screen.  He is a true delight, one of those characters that you’re hoping just comes back in every scene. It’s like the part of Hilliard was tailor made just for him and the role fits him like a glove.  If the film receives distribution before the end of the year, watch for Nighy as a potential awards season dark horse here his performance is so delectable.

The film itself also ticks a lot of boxes that the academy might find appealing during its nomination process.  Being a period piece doesn’t hurt, however the film is also a love letter to cinema (like another certain film festival darling this year, La La Land) and in a time when the world is looking for lighter fare to even out the pessimism of the world, this may squeak into contention.

In the film, a character states, “Film is real life with the boring bits cut out,” and certainly there aren’t really any boring bits here.  It may fall into a category of romantic comedy, but Their Finest treads a little deeper than that, managing to inhabit an immersive period of history while exploring the unpredictability of life.  It’s a genuine pleasure to watch.


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  1. Director is from Denmark = danish, not dutch.

    • Cheers. I have updated the post

    • Thanks Andre! That was totally an error on my part and very embarrassing as she is one of my favourite directors (and I promise I know the difference between the two haha)! Festival brain and lack of sleep got the better of me there, but is never an excuse! Thank you for pointing that out!!!

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