Friday, April 14, 2017

THEIR FINEST: Lone Scherfig's subtle, loving appreciation of movies and Britain in wartime

How wonderful to see a British "period" movie done with such subtlety, affection and skill that it immediately bypasses anything "Masterpiece Theatery" and instead pulls you in via a raft of specific and highly believable characters and a tale that encompasses a rich, vast canvas that is also at every moment filled with intelligent detail. THEIR FINEST is also firmly feminist without ever having to shout about it. The movie's title itself makes that point, though it won't fully resonate until you've experienced this quiet and unusually graceful film.

As written by Gaby Chiappe (from the novel by Lissa Evans) and directed by Lone Scherfig (shown at right, of An Education and The Riot Club), this is a movie in which the creators are women. Yet the male characters are certainly as well-rounded as are the females, even if patriarchy is everywhere so present and powerful that it never notices its own sense of entitlement. Which is of course and forever the point. Yet Their Finest underscores all this without ever banging it home, and its very smart combination of World War II Britain and a loving-but-knowing appreciation of what movies can do and how they do it, renders the film a special experience.

The tale told is of a young woman, Catrin (played by the fine Gemma Arterton, above) -- married, we are initially told, to a striving but as yet unsuccessful artist (Jack Huston, below) -- who is given a job during Hitler's blitz of London writing the "sop" scenes (those devoted to women) for a new wartime propaganda movie.

In the process, Catrin comes into close contact with a raft of memorable characters -- from her co-writer (Sam Claflin, below, left)

to a nearly-has-been but still full-of-himself actor (the great Bill Nighy, below, in blue, who should get a supporting Oscar nod for this role) to the stern semi-overseer (Rachael Sterling, two photos below) whom the creative crew calls "the Ministry spy."

We also meet Nighy's agent (the marvelously versatile Eddie Marsan, creating yet another gem of a character), and his sister, played by the equally talented actress Helen McCrory. During the making of the wildly evolving movie-with-a-movie, we're also introduced to an American hero, suddenly turned actor, who must be added to the mix to make the movie marketable in the USA.

As played by Jake Lacy (below), delightfully dumb and so of-the-1940s, this fellow adds the broadest but still believable humor to the movie's mix. Everything evolves here -- characters, plot, themes -- until by the finale we're both moved by and marveling at what movies -- this one, and the movie within it -- can accomplish.

From STX Entertainment and running 117 minutes, Their Finest opened last week in limited release and this week hits venues all around the country. Here in South Florida, you can find it at a half dozen venues in the Miami, Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale areas. Elsewhere? I am sure so, though the distributor's web site is no help whatsoever. But try clicking on your favorite movie-ticket site, entering your zip code, then see what happens....

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