Their Finest (12A) – A Preview

There was a time when fake news was known as propaganda, and a time before that when propaganda wasn’t a dirty word. Their Finest explores how the ignoble retreat from Dunkirk was recast as an exemplar of the indomitable spirit of plucky Brits – a necessary and pragmatic device to keep spirits afloat on an isolated and beleaguered island, battered by an opposition in the ascendant.

Based on Lissa Evan’s novel, the film takes a wry and big-hearted look at the people who essentially made up stories, simply to make everyone feel and act a bit better. Gemma Arterton plays scriptwriter Catrin Cole with a winning charm, while Sam Claflin is cast against type, and effectively so, as her grumpy, misanthropic writing partner. Their burgeoning relationship, played out with a refreshing lack of anachronistic sexual politics, is charming, eccentric and surprisingly believable. Bill Nighy does his usual turn as has-been actor Ambrose Hilliard, while Rachael Stirling, as an acerbic proto-feminist, steals every scene she is in.

The film takes a while to get going – there’s a cool detachment to Lone Scherfig direction that veers close to inconsequence – but this only makes the abrupt gear changes all the more shocking. From the moment something very nasty happens to a key player – a horrible and moving scene that is an apt reminder of the uncertainty of life during wartime – the film repeatedly returns to the motif of cruel happenstance, culminating in a surprisingly sombre, yet satisfyingly truthful, conclusion.

By David Vass

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