For the most part, Arterton keeps 'Their Finest' afloat


“Their Finest” – Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) lives in London. On an ordinary day, we see her riding a bus, but it suddenly stops, and the driver announces, “The bus can’t go any further.”

The street – we see - is severely damaged, so everyone steps off the public vehicle to walk the rest of the way to their destinations. The riders act like this unexpected stop is an action which is quite expected, because of this particular year, 1940. In the early days of World War II, the German Air Force has been dropping bombs on England’s most prominent city for a tireless while, and Catrin’s inconvenience – on this particular day - is simply a way of life for Londoners.

With the threat of bombs falling from the sky, the rest of Catrin’s life is a mix of blessings and slights. Well, she is married to a painter named Ellis (Jack Huston), who includes resemblances of her in his art. The problem is his work is dark and smoky, and any inclusions of Catrin are tiny and difficult to make out. Like cloudy, impressionist versions of Catrin, without her warm smile.

For work, the British Ministry of Information – Film Division just hired her for two pounds per week, but they pay the men three pounds per week for the exact same job. Still, she is earning a living, and it turns out she was hired to be a screenwriter. Now, she has no experience, but Catrin is personable, intuitive and a quick study.

She can type as well, and speaking of typewriters, they can be seen and heard throughout the picture in a warm homage of nostalgia towards yesterdecade. The snapping of typewriter keys might stir memories of Claudette Cobert, Katherine Hepburn and Gary Grant, but director Lone Scherfig successfully gets the entire look and feel of 1940 exactly right, from costume designs, hair and makeup, street scenes, and sets. Plus, with pedestrians stepping over broken sidewalks and ducking at the sound of a nearby explosions, Scherfig’s picture is a perfect look at an imperfect time in British history.

The Ministry of Information – Film Division is looking for a turnaround for Britain during this imperfect time, and with 30 million people walking into cinemas each week, movies certainly have a part to play to shape opinions or improve spirits. An emotional, war picture set in Dunkirk is the decided film, and the making of “The Nancy Starling” is born. Catrin, an entire film crew and hired actors work to make the film a success. “Their Finest” puts its finest foot forward to dance several moving-making steps and missteps towards a finished “The Nancy Starling”-product, complete with behind-the-scenes secrets and problems that could impact any film, including entitled actors, production issues and script changes.

Catrin’s fellow screenwriter, Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), should be her biggest ally in a 1940 work setting, but for some reason Gaby Chiappe’s “Their Finest” screenplay created him as a mean, sarcastic jerk. Moviegoers may have last seen Claflin on screen in the emotional love story, “Me Before You” (2016) with Emilia Clarke. In that picture, his character, Will, was a paralyzed man, who tried his very best to maintain his bitter exterior about his internal failure of his nervous system. He was convincing, but Will also allowed Clarke’s character to melt his heart at specific, called-upon times.

Here, Sam seems to have brought the worst elements of Will from “Me About You” to Tom. So many times, he treats Catrin like a second-class citizen or a no-nothing, that it truly becomes offensive, even if that is how women were treated in the workplace in 1940. So, during the point in the third act when romance could blossom between the two, I personally reached back to a different saying from yesterdecade. The 1980s actually, as I thought to myself, ‘Gag me with a spoon.’

Arterton’s Catrin, on the other hand, generates completely opposite feelings. She is warm, bright and an optimist who – in the past - has let pessimists dictate her state of being. Catrin is the one needing to walk through trying trials to reach the other side, and her work on “The Nancy Starling” may just get her there. Now, this is Arterton’s film, and this talented actress can certainly work through said story arcs, but in this case, no one has enough charisma and cinematic gifts to overcome a poorly-matched love interest designed to submarine the heroine at nearly every turn.

“Their Finest” does offer another chance for Arterton to show off another bright star turn and further proof that she can carry a film. If there is any doubt, please refer to her sparkling performances in 2012’s “Unfinished Song” and 2010’s “Tamara Drewe”. She just needed a little more support from very good screenplay that carried one very painful flaw.

Sigh, I guess this figurative bus can’t go any further.

(2.5/4 stars)

Image credits: Lionsgate