Sundance Review: “Their Finest”



Lissa Evans’ novel “Their Finest Hour and a Half” has been adapted for the screen in “Their Finest,” a story about a female writer (Gemma Arterton) who is hired to pen scripts for British propaganda films in 1940. What’s interesting is that while I’m sure director Lone Scherfig  (“An Education,” “One Day”) had the intention of this film being a pro-woman statement of girl power, the female lead isn’t a particularly strong character.

Arterton plays Catrin, a sometimes-single woman in wartime London who applies for a secretarial position but suddenly finds herself whisked into the world of filmmaking. When she meets studio producer and writer Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), sparks fly. The two leads are appealing enough, but the actors simply aren’t strong enough to carry the film themselves. There are some amusing supporting performances from Bill Nighy as an aging actor struggling with his new casting reality, Jack Huston as Catrin’s scoundrel artist boyfriend, and the always delightful Jake Lacy as a handsome, toothy soldier turned actor.

The film has a nice old-timey, cinematic richness in its look and feel, but the script is a huge obstacle that the movie can never overcome. It’s choppily written and utterly confusing, with too much talking about making a movie and not enough action actually making the movie — unless you count repetitive scenes of frantic typing with the sounds of bombings and air raid sirens as an audio backdrop. The film is further burdened with overwritten dialogue and is far too chatty to offer any compelling insight or deep, meaningful conversation. At one point in the film, a character offers up his writing advice: “there’s too much dialogue, lose half.” Oh how I wish screenwriter Gaby Chiappe had taken this advice.

Of course, these criticisms are chastised in the film itself when a stuffy character laments that American audiences don’t understand “subtly nuanced” films. Go ahead and poke fun of your audience if you must, but this ridicule won’t change my opinion: this movie is B-O-R-I-N-G.

“Their Finest” is one of those films that makes the art of making movies feel too self-important. It’s a film that Hollywood types gravitate towards and slap themselves on the back to congratulate themselves for playing such a significant role in contributing to our arts and entertainment culture. It’s also the kind of movie that audiences will run from, yawning all the way out of the cinema.

This film was screened and reviewed at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

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