"Authenticity, optimism and a dog," is the brief given to cynical screenwriter Tom Buckley (Claflin), employed to pen a film to boost the nation's morale during The Blitz and help sell the war effort to the Americans. Plucking a story from the paper about twins who defied their father and stole his boat to help rescue marooned British soldiers at Dunkirk, Catrin Cole (Arterton) is drafted in to write "the slop" (women's dialogue). But as the Home Office tinker with the original idea to a frustrating degree, pompous star Ambrose (Nighy) pushing for a bigger role, her solid work diminished by everyday chauvinism, and pressure to quit by selfish fiancé Ellis (Jack Huston), Catrin's position becomes increasingly untenable…
A real surprise, Their Finest is the best movie about screenwriting since Adaptation. I understand it's probably the only one since, and the multiplexes weren't exactly awash with them before that either, but this is touching, bubbly and funny stuff. The titles for the film bandied about include Dunkirk Or Bust (because they're women, see?), Jeremy Irons' Secretary Of War insists an American pilot ace be in the cast but Carl Lundbeck (Girls' Fran Parker) can't act worth a damn, and Bill Nighy swans about the set with a better-than-thou attitude despite being forced to play second fiddle to a ham. The dialogue is witty and any budding screenwriters out there will have a snigger at the preposterous notes given to Catrin and Tom.
All that's fun but Their Finest doesn't shirk from more grave matters: it might have a laugh at the systematic sexism but there's an underlying seriousness to it, there's the shock ending, and the horrors of The Blitz aren't forgotten with Catrin discovering a dead woman in the rubble. Their Finest drops in moments like these to remind the audience that while they're having fun, grief and death and destruction were part of Londoner's lives.
It's not without its problems though. Director Lone Sherfig (One Day, An Education) and writer Gabby Chiappe (to date chipping away at minor TV series (Shetland, Lark Rise To Candleford) employ the infuriating tactic of making their heroine an angel; she feels guilt over her feelings for Claflin but then those feelings are justified when she discovers that her fiancé is a cad. It also wastes one of Britain's greatest talent with Eddie Marsan reduced to a nothing role. And Their Finest? Their Finest what? Attire? Delf? The film is an adaptation of Lissa Evans' novel Their Finest Hour And A Half, which makes perfect sense. Dropping half of the title does not.