Friday, 28 April 2017

Film Review: Gemma Arterton ramps up the heart in the lovable, genre merging Their Finest

When I took my seat to watch Lone Scherfig's latest film Their Finest, I took a brief look around me and noticed something: I was the youngest person in this crowded cinema by at least three decades. Maybe this is because most people my age are at their full time job around 1pm on a Tuesday afternoon, maybe it's just that Their Finest feels more at home with an older audience. Either way, it was a somewhat unusual realisation - there's just something a touch off putting about being the only person of your generation in such a crowd.

It turns out I needn't have worried, within moments of the lights dimming I'd forgotten my surroundings anyway. Their Finest captures your attention from the opening minute and retains it right the way through to the last. Gemma Arterton plays Catrin Cole, a woman living in wartime London who lands a job as a screenwriter of short propaganda films. She eventually discovers a story that could make for a rousing feature and so she, along with fellow screenwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) and actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), races to get the feature made no matter what obstacles are thrown at her across the way.

The weight of the film falls entirely on Arterton's shoulders, and she carries it with aplomb. Her performance here is understated but touching in some moments yet rousing and empowering in others. The restraint she brings to some of the film's more upsetting moments - and believe me, there are a few - is commendable, in lesser hands Catrin could come across a bit engineered as a character, a bit obvious maybe. Arterton sheds Catrin of such a burden, delivering a likeable and crowd pleasing performance without ever sacrificing the nuances of her character.

If that wasn't enough, Bill Nighy is also on hand and I think we're beyond talking about how great he is by now. Nighy is a bona fide scene-stealer, his comic timing owning the film's opening half while his gentle warmheartedness shines through in the latter end. Sam Claflin is also terrific: an actor rarely given meaty material to play with, he nonetheless infuses Buckley with urgency and desperation during the film's more tense moments but his quieter scenes allow for a complex history to seep onto the surface. Supporting turns from Helen McCrory, Eddie Marsan, Paul Ritter and Jake Lacy are equally as enjoyable - it's arguably the strongest ensemble cast of the year thus far.

Their Finest oozes class in every way, from its dazzling performances right the way through to its glitzy production design. The film appears stunning on a smaller budget than most period pieces are treated to, there's a fondness to the production and cinematography on display that ensures each frame is filled with love and care. Be it the cluttered and cramped writer's rooms, the huge old fashioned studio sets or the open streets of wartime London, Their Finest feels just how the story's fictional producers wanted their own film to feel - authentic.

Yet, amid this glamour and authenticity, Their Finest isn't afraid to take risks. The film never forgets its wartime setting, air raids are frequent during the London sequences and they don't shy away from the intensity of such a horror. The bombings also lead to a depleted and struggling film crew, a subtle notion that perhaps many other films wouldn't think to include. The fact that this notion leads directly to the film's most unexpected twist is also commendable.

Their Finest goes to places you wouldn't expect, but the hold it has on its character never trembles, its footing never stumbles. A case could be made for the film losing a touch of its magic when it drifts down to Devon for a short period, and one other notable plot twist feels a tad too obvious in its execution, but Their Finest is imbued with such love and care that I'm willing to look past them - this film is so seamlessly performed, quietly touching and beautifully pieced together in every way that small flaws like these simply aren't relevant.

Look, I enjoy a good Marvel movie and I like Star Wars as much as the next guy, but there's something just untouchable about a film like this. One made without franchise intentions, one made without big budgets and expensive sets and overly dumbed down characters. This is a film made with heart and soul, and its authentic optimism is infectious for every minute you're watching it. It all builds to a final sequence so moving, so impeccably touching that you may not even realise just how invested in it you were all along. I loved every last second of it, and I could tell my pensioned fellow cinemagoers did too. 

In A Sentence
Beautifully performed across the board, Their Finest is both a wartime drama and a warmhearted comedy, combining the two with delightful and frequently emotional results.

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