Their Finest (Scherfig, 2016)

Another film about the process of filmmaking, Their Finest takes us to bomb-riddled London in 1940, where a young secretary is hired by the government to help script morale-boosting propaganda films. First on the docket is an inspirational tale of twin sisters who commandeer a boat and set their course for Dunkirk. Like any film based on a true story, it’s considerably embellished and gussied up for general audiences, but for the purposes of propaganda, it’s a perfect fit. And so the screenwriters set off to make it shine, while the actors try to iron out the kinks on their side. In the process, sparks fly, things crumble, cracks are made, and so on. Fun stuff all around.

Their Finest works best as a rumination on endings, both human and cinematic. What constitutes a “good” ending? And why is death sometimes so stupid, taking people in such ignoble ways? These are things the characters are forced to confront, and the end result manages to work well. The scene with Arterton watching the finished picture alongside other emotional audience members is undoubtedly the film’s best. Less effective are the lead characters; Arterton and Claflin are solid, but sadly the characters they embody are quite dull. The supporting characters frankly outshine them, especially Bill Nighy, who does his best “obnoxious thespian” type and gives everyone a lesson in scene-stealing. Even smaller parts, like those played by Rachael Stirling and Helen McCrory, have more of a pop to them than what Arterton and Claflin are given.

So, in the end, I’m two ways about this one. It’s fluff, undoubtedly, but not quite as disposable as I thought it would be. Its ruminations on finality, and the lively way it depicts cinema’s creation, give it a lovely mixture of gravity and levity. On the downside, you end up enjoying the bit parts more than the heroes. Still: Nighy, Nighy, Nighy. This is worth seeing, if not just for him.