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Even in War, the Show Must Go On!
Somewhere between Hail, Caesar! and Hidden Figures, Lone Scherfig's Their Finest is an equally delightful and tragic picture of a movie-within-a-movie amidst wartime. It's led by a fantastic performance from Gemma Arterton as the film's driven, empowering central character.
That character is Catrin, a talented writer in 1940s London who lands a gig at the Ministry of Information (the Film Division) as a scriptwriter. There, she plays a vital role in the turbulent, bomb-blasts-in-the-background production for a film about the Dunkirk evacuation. Coincidentally, this comes right before Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, a highly-anticipated film on the same subject.
What unfolds is a splendidly layered story about art, romance, war, truth, authenticity, writing, acting, and filmmaking. It's classically shot and rendered with excellent old-fashioned period detail. And for a movie that focuses on themes about storytelling and performance, it fittingly showcases a great screenplay itself, along with some wonderful acting. The script is full of snappy, clever, subtextual dialogue, and the narrative gracefully blends humor and solemnity.
Gemma Arterton, for her part, gives a tremendously well-rounded performance of a well-drawn character, carrying a creative savvy, confidence, vulnerability, and a well-wrought emotional core all at once. The supporting cast is impressive too. Sam Clafin solidly serves as Catrin's arrogant, bickering co-writer who eventually exhibits a likable turn as the two form a bond (all that time spent in the writer's room together, I guess). Then there's the always great Bill Nighy who plays an eccentric aging actor, often stealing the show as he provides a lot of the film's comedic moments. It is he who also delivers the line, "We'll have them weeping in the aisles!" You might feel the same way about Their Finest.