The other night, I watched Their Finest, a film based on the 2009 novel, Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans. In many ways, it’s a typical British period comedy-drama about the making of a propaganda film and life on the home front during World War II. But it also had a modern take on the role of women in society. And their contribution to the war effort.
Catrin Cole, played by Gemma Arterton, is an inexperienced but talented scriptwriter. She teams with Sam Claflin’s Tom Buckley to write the script for a British Ministry of Information film on the Dunkirk evacuation. The aim is to lift the home front’s morale during the Battle of Britain and London Blitz. The propaganda film’s reluctant star is Ambrose Hilliard, superbly played by Bill Nighy.
Highlighting Women and Writers
Mrs Cole, as Catrin is politely referred to by fellow writers and film actors and unit workers, is an instantly recognisable modern woman. She has her own opinions and is not cowed by convention to keep them to herself. And when she encounters male chauvinism, such as her husband, an out-of-work artist, insisting she quit the film and London to move to the safety of Wales, Mrs Cole stands firm.
In addition to its positive portrayal of Catrin Cole and other women in the war effort, I also liked the way Their Finest shone a light on the role of writers in the making of films and the writing process.
When the Ministry of Information discovers a deception in the story behind the making of their propaganda film, the head writer, Buckley, dismisses it as “artistic license”, no worse than portraying Dunkirk to the public as a heroic triumph.
Have a box of tissues handy
There were sad moments in Their Finest, some of which felt contrived. But then it occurred to me: perhaps it wasn’t so? With blitz bombs raining down on London, life could end suddenly, without rhyme, reason or warning.
Living through the Battle of Britain and the Blitz, it must have felt at times like one’s own survival or death, and those of an acquaintance or loved one, was simply a writer’s contrivance.
I thoroughly recommend watching Their Finest — but make sure you have a box of tissues handy!
© 2017 Robert Fairhead
N.B. You might also be interested in this blog post about the book on which the film was based, Their Finest by Lissa Evans (November 2017). And another post about similar book-film set in WWII and post-war Britain, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (August 2018).
Welcome to the blog posts and selected writing of Robert Fairhead. A writer and editor at the Tall And True writers' website, Robert also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast. In addition, his book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media, and he's published several collections of short stories. Please see Robert's profile for further details.