Movie review: Their Finest 

Movie reviews

Hello!

The first movie of the year focused on the battle of Dunkirk – Their Finest – has reached theaters, so, let’s review it.

IMDb summary: A British film crew attempts to boost morale during World War II by making a propaganda film after the Blitzkrieg.

While Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (premiering in July) will tackle and reproduce the actual battle and the evacuation, Lone Scherfig’s film Their Finest is a story about a war propaganda film, based on a fictional story related to the real-life events at Dunkirk, produced in order to raise the patriotism of the nation. The genres and tones of the 2 movies differ vastly: one looks like a grim and serious action drama, while another one is a lighter comedy drama with some romance thrown in as well.

On top of being one of the two films about Dunkirk, Their Finest interested me for 3 reasons: 1. I wanted to see the representation of the British propaganda and how it differed or was similar to the Soviet propaganda – the kind that I’m more familiar with from history classes and from just generally growing up in Eastern/Northern Europe. 2. I have always enjoyed films about filmmaking and as this one centered on screenwriters – an occupation that I would like to pursue – my interest was peaked. 3. The movie started Sam Claflin – an actor, whose career I’ve been following pretty closely. So, let’s see if Their Finest is as ‘fine’ of a picture as the title suggests!

Writing

Their Finest was written by a TV writer Gaby Chiappe, based on novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans. From the technical standpoint, the writing for the film was very nice: the narrative was well structured and rich with ideas. Whether or not the ideas worked, is a very subjective question. I, personally, really liked some of the themes but was equally frustrated by the others.

To begin with, the picture focused a lot on the relationship between Gemma Arterton’s and Sam Claflin’s characters. I highly disliked the fact that their professional relationship had to be turned into a romantic one by the end of the film. I find that this happens in a lot of stories, even in the contemporary ones. For example, the way J.K.Rowling, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, is portraying the relationship between the two main characters in her Cormoran Strike Series irritates me a lot. And yet, going back to the relationship between the characters in Their Finest, if I considered the said relationship’s romantic aspect separately, I thought that it did work and was convincing. The two individuals seemed pretty evenly matched and their sparring was entertaining to watch. The sudden end to the relationship was also emotionally effective. At first, I deemed that the end might have been too sudden but I later I’ve realized that the scriptwriters intended it to be that way and to convey a message that one never knows what might happen in war.

The second big theme of the picture was Gemma Arterton’s character’s growth as an individual. Her personal story acted very much as a symbol for a lot of women’s stories during the war – how they have finally begun to transition from the domestic spaces into the public ones. Sadly, this process is still is progress, 70+ years later. I thought that the main character was developed quite nicely – I wish we would have found out more about her background and upbringing in Wales, but I really liked her subtle journey towards independence.

Thirdly, the movie explored the screenwriting and the filmmaking business. I really loved this particular aspect of the film and just loved the fact that Their Finest celebrated the movies and tried finding positive attributes of cinema even if it was political cinema. I simply loved Sam Claflin’s character’s enthusiasm about and love for the pictures, especially since his character otherwise seemed really pessimistic and ironic. I could identify with this type of depiction very closely. The way the movie played up the uber-poshness of the actors and of the British actors, to be specific, with Bill Nighy’s character was also really fun.

Lastly, Their Finest dealt with the propaganda filmmaking, not just simple filmmaking. Not only did this type of story provided a different perspective on war, but it also proved to me that the types of propaganda don’t vary much from country to country. Like the Soviet propaganda, some of the British propaganda was very obvious but some of it was something more, just like the-picture-within-the-picture in Their Finest or a real life example, such as Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. And yet, since both Their Finest and The Nancy Starling (a-movie-within-a-movie) stressed the importance of optimism and happy endings, I can’t help but wonder where exactly did the cinematic propaganda end?

Directing

Their Finest was directed by Lone Scherfig. Although the director is Danish, I thought that she nailed the British feeling of the film. She has already done that earlier with The Riot Club – that movie has really made me question my adoration of the British culture quite a bit. So, Their Finest resembled the previous historic UK-based movies that I’ve reviewed, like SuffragetteTestament of Youthand Far From The Madding Crowd. The fact that the movie was executed with the classical stationary camera work and the steady frame, also added an appropriate old-school yet timeless feel to the picture. The pacing of the picture was also very even. 

Acting

Gemma Arterton played the lead in the film and did a really good job. I hope that this is a career-changing role for her, as so far she has been starring in mostly B-level pictures, like Clash of the TitansPrince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Hansel & Gretel: Witch HuntersI really loved how subtle yet powerful her performance was. My favorite line of hers was the last words to the boyfriend: ‘You shouldn’t have painted me that small’. Her delivery was brilliant. I also though that Arterton’s chemistry with the co-star Sam Claflin was really good and believable. I loved Claflin’s character and the actor’s performance. It was so interesting to see a writer who can express oneself well enough of paper but struggles to do the same face to face. After starting his big screen career by acting the big action flicks, like Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and The Hunger Games franchise, Claflin has mostly stuck to dramas recently, including 2014’s Love, Rosie and 2016’s Me Before You. His next film is also a historical drama – My Cousin Rachel. He has also previously collaborated with the director of Their Finest on The Riot Club.

The supporting cast included established English actors Bill NighyHelen McCroryEddie Marsan, and Richard E. GranJack Huston (American Hustle, Hail, Caesar!and Ben-Hur) also had a minor role.

In short, Their Finest is a brilliant little movie, which, sadly, will be overlooked by the majority of movie-goers and buried by the blockbusters, including the one it shares the topic with. I highly recommend this film for all those interested in history and the art of filmmaking.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Their Finest trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Testament of Youth

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to another segment of brief movie reviews. You can find the first installment here.

This time, we are talking about Testament of Youth – a 2nd British period piece of this summer. I have done the full review of the 1st one – Far From the Madding Crowd, find it here.

  1. Testament of Youth is a film about World War I. It is based on a memoir by English writer and a pacifist Vera Brittain, who is also the main character of the film (it’s a memoir, so duh-uh). I’m in love with British literature and history, so this film was perfect for me. Also, recently, I have become very interested in books and movies about World Wars, so I’m very happy that I checked this one out as well. It’s a great historical movie and, as you would expect from any wartime movie, it doesn’t have a happy ending. However, the whole plot of the film portrays one particular feeling, which makes the ending seem like a happy one: the feeling of hope. Hope that the world can change and that we, as a race, can learn from our mistakes. Sadly, the film’s characters don’t know the true, but we do – people never learn from the past.
  2. The film is directed by James Kent and written by Juliette Towhidi. However, the most accomplished behind the scenes person on this film is actually the producer – David Heyman. He produced all Harry Potter films and 2013’s Gravity. Visually, the film looks beautiful and the locations are true to historical facts. The famous shot of saying goodbye in a train station, which can be seen in all films about war, is done wonderfully in this film as well.
  3.  The leading lady of the film – Vera Brittain – is played by Alicia Vikander. I loved her in the role. She perfectly portrayed an independent woman, who is smart and knows what she wants from life, but is not afraid to be a romantic as well. I did a review of other Alicia Vikander’s films very recently and spoke more about her as an actress in that post. Find it here.
  4. The leading man of the film is played by Game of Throne’s Kit Harrington. With an unknown fate of Jon Snow, I’m happy that Harrington is developing his movie career. He was brilliant in the role and I’m happy that critics finally seem to like him because his other movies Pompeii and Seventh Son were torn apart by the same critics.
  5. The film’s suppository cast is full of British talent. Kingsman’s Taron Egerton plays Vera’s brother, while Agent Carter’s Hayley Atwell stars as one of the nurses. TV and theater actor Colin Morgan plays a friend of the Brittain’s siblings. All actors deliver top-notch performances.

All in all, it’s a great film for fans of history and for fans of sad but hopeful war movies. The acting is great, the visual appeal – amazing and the story is bound to bring at least a single tear to the viewer’s eye. The film was released in the UK last year and in many parts of the world throughout 2015, but in might be easier to find it online or on DVD, if you want to watch it.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Testament of Youth trailer

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