Their Finest: A burst of feminism and optimism, both on- and off-screen
by Irene Silvera Frischknecht
- Danish director Lone Scherfig returns to the United Kingdom for this classy period drama set in London
Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig’s ninth full length film is a charming portrait of the world of British filmmaking during the Second World War, which sensitively captures the crucial wartime role of women in boosting public morale. Their Finest [+see also:
interview: Lone Scherfig
film profile] has been chosen as one of the headline films for the 60th BFI London Film Festival, hot on the heels of its world première at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
Gemma Arterton plays Catrin, a young copywriter who is taken on to help with the script for a flag-waving feature film being put together by the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Information. Her role is initially confined to adding a touch of realism and authenticity to the dialogues between female characters, in the hope of attracting and pandering to the large numbers of women who frequent the capital’s cinemas. But Catrin turns out to be a modern, resolute sort of woman, and she’s determined that the women appearing on screen should be endowed with strong, significant roles and personalities of their own, rather than being mere plot devices or love-interests for the (male) heroes.
Catrin lives with her husband Ellis (Jack Huston), a struggling painter whose work is deemed too gloomy for a country desperately trying to cling on to its optimism. Completely self-absorbed, Ellis clearly resents the idea of being financially dependent on his wife. Just when Catrin is getting more and more involved in the production of the film, he is handed an opportunity to display his work that will keep him away from home for several weeks. While he is gone, Catrin strikes up an antagonistic relationship with her arrogant fellow screenwriter Tom (played by Sam Claflin). After an overly exuberant start, she begins to understand that, in a male-dominated and highly politicised world, subtlety and cunning are the only tools that will help her bring her ideas to life. Although Tom is not too thrilled at first at the idea of a woman being elevated to his own professional standing, little by little he reveals his softer side—paving the way for a love story that burns far brighter than the one they hope to bring to the screen.
Their Finest is the fifth film by Danish director Scherfig to be set in the UK, and is based on the novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans. The all-British cast includes a delightful cameo by Jeremy Irons in fine comic form, and a winning performance from Bill Nighy, who steals a number of scenes with his portrayal of a pompous one-time star now decidedly over the hill. Despite its sombre historical setting, the pastel palette, reminiscent of a Douglas Sirk film, lends a touch of melodrama that is enhanced by Rachel Portman’s outstanding score. The result is a sophisticated feminist portrait of the realities of women’s lives in 1940s Britain, and, above all, a tribute to the evocative power of cinema.
Our 60th BFI London Film Festival coverage is run in collaboration with the UK National Film and Television School's MA in Film Studies, Programming and Curation.
(Translated from Spanish)