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Review: Plucky but timid Their Finest is a very British romcom

PUBLISHED: 09:43 21 April 2017 | UPDATED: 09:43 21 April 2017

Gemma Arterton as Catrin Cole and Bill Nighy as Ambrose Hilliard in Their Finest. Picture: Lionsgate/Nicola Dove

Gemma Arterton as Catrin Cole and Bill Nighy as Ambrose Hilliard in Their Finest. Picture: Lionsgate/Nicola Dove

Nicola Dove

The Blitz era low budget movie about home front propaganda, with a cast that includes Norfolk’s own Sam Claflin, is sweet and charming but ineffectual.

Their Finest (15)

***

This very British film opens boldly, perhaps foolishly, with a bored audience being derisive about a British film they are watching.

Well, there was a war on and London was suffering under the Blitz so you can see why audiences might be more uppity than usual.

Their Finest is about the making of a patriotic British film about Dunkirk, designed to raise home front spirits and entice the hesitant Yanks to pitch in.

It is a microcosm of the joys and woes of British film: it’s a romcom; it’s plucky, it’s low budget, it’s filled with quality actors doing little more than cameos. There’s a token yank to grab the American market, and it’s got Bill Nighy in it.

It’s quite sly in the way that it becomes a film within a film, without being all meta or knowing about it. Gemma Arterton is instructed to find something real and authentic to base a patriotic feature on. We then watch a simple tale of two timid sisters who tried but failed to make it across the Channel for the Dunkirk evacuation, being slowly rebuilt into a much more audience stirring story as the various studio and ministry committees take control of the creative process.

It is clever like that, but it also has that British timidness. So, Arterton is romantically torn between painter Jack Huston and a scriptwriter played by Norfolk actor Sam Claflin, sounding very Hugh Grantish.

Nighy is very funny as a vain ageing actor, but these are old laughs, ones he’s raised numerous times before. At the height of the Blitz, death seems everywhere but Their Finest is all terribly nice: even the tragic bits are neatly tragic and the most erotically charged moment is when Arterton has to squeeze past a table positioned too close to a wall.

Their Finest embodies another tradition of British cinema: the Gemma Arterton film that nobody sees. These come in all different types: the costume drama Gemma Arterton film that nobody sees; the French Gemma Arterton film that nobody sees; the YA bestseller adaptation Gemma Arterton film that nobody sees. They are generally pretty good these films and I’m sure that sweet, charming, moving, but ineffectual Their Finest is the next one on the pile.

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