Review: Their Finest – propaganda with heart?

Their Finest, directed by Lone Scherfig, director of An Education and The Riot Club, is a lot better than one might expect upon first glance.

It follows Gemma Arteton’s screenwriter Catrin as she’s hired to write the female dialogue for a film intended to rally the war spirits. One could be forgiven for looking at this film and thinking it was in the same vein as those propaganda films but, despite some problems, it’s perfectly enjoyable with one of the least overt feminist subtexts I’ve seen for a while.

The interesting thing is that the film just lets the gender politics of the time sit there like a non-deboned salmon. When characters express sexist thoughts or microaggressions the movie doesn’t immediately condemn these people as wholly bad for thinking these things. Instead it suggests that the time is bad for engendering these opinions in otherwise charismatic, decent people and the film does not depict them as wholly irredeemable either.

You could read an interesting metanarrative in the character’s production of a film intended to raise the spirits and morale of people in the war while at the same time being in a film that raises the morale of anyone watching. In which case this would make it the most traditionally put together postmodern film since The Hours but that might be pushing it.

It’s very handsomely mounted and features a collection of fine performances from the inimitable Bill Nighy, Gemma Arteton, Sam Clafin, and more of the ensemble despite some silly accents. However, it does  feel overly compressed from its novel source and the structure seems like it should have been rethought in adaptation. This doesn’t stop Their Finest from being a subversive, if not particularly substantial war drama.

James Selway

Image courtesy of BBC Films

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