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Monday, June 5, 2017


(Gemma Arterton & Bill Nighy)

This charming, witty and ultimately moving wartime romance set during the Blitz is a delight. (Review by Patrick Compton - 9)

Both world wars took women “out of their boxes”, offering them opportunities in the workplace that they would never have dreamed of occupying in normal circumstances.

That’s the serious side of Lone (An Education) Scherfig’s bracing film, but there’s plenty of wit and charm as well with Gemma Arterton excelling as a Welsh scriptwriter engaged in making a propaganda movie designed to lift morale during the dark days of 1940. And, of course, there’s the incomparable Bill Nighy who steals every scene he’s in as a grumpy actor of a certain age who’s past his best but determined to exploit the opportunity he’s been given.

The film, adapted from Lissa Evans’s novel, Their Finest Hour and a Half, pits Catrin (Arterton) against fellow screenwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) in a merry war of words as they work together on a half-true film about a pair of sisters who filch their drunken dad’s boat and head out across the channel to rescue soldiers from Dunkirk.

Catrin and Tom’s screwball Benedict and Beatrice relationship barely disguises a growing romantic attachment although both do their best to swim against this tide. We discover that Catrin has left the valleys for love, in tow with her unsuccessful artist husband Ellis (Jack Huston), and he is unbalanced by the fact that his wife is earning the family bread.

This sexism permeates the film as the men react fairly dismally to the unexpected challenges that the sparky women characters provide. Without going any further into the plot, the movie certainly suggests that women, once out of the box, will be most reluctant to return to them once the war has ended.

Arterton gives a restrained, nuanced central performance, suggesting reserves of courage that the screenplay merely hints at. Having recently seen her as St Joan in George Bernard Shaw’s play in National Theatre Live, it’s fast becoming clear that she is an actress who is developing into one of Britain’s finest. Nighy, of course, is already perched at the top, and is on scintillating form as the deliciously vain actor Ambrose Hilliard and gloriously hammy in the movie as boozy Uncle Frank. There are nice cameos, too, from Richard E. Grant as a Ministry of Information politician, Henry Goodman as a movie producer and Rachael Sterling as a sympathetic gay office worker who views men in a particularly astringent light.

The film-within-a-film format works particularly well, offering a full range of comic moments – from caustic to slapstick – that link up beautifully with the action on the other side of the camera.

The film is not in black and white, but it has been leached of most of its primary colours, settling for an appropriately wintry palette that includes slate blue and charcoal grey.

Their Finest opened at Gateway Nouveau, Umhlanga, on June 2. – Patrick Compton