Their Finest is a 2016 British war comedy-drama film directed by Lone Scherfig and written by Gaby Chiappe, based on the 2009 novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans. The film stars Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Jake Lacy, Richard E. Grant, Henry Goodman, Rachael Stirling, Eddie Marsan, Helen McCrory, and Claudia Jessie. The film tells the story of a British Ministry of Information film team making a morale-boosting film about the Dunkirk evacuation during the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz.
British theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Lone Scherfig|
|Screenplay by||Gaby Chiappe|
|Based on||Their Finest Hour and a Half|
by Lissa Evans
|Music by||Rachel Portman|
|Edited by||Lucia Zucchetti|
|Box office||$12.3 million|
The film is set during the time after Dunkirk when the Battle of Britain is turning into The Blitz. The British government is desperately seeking to shore up morale of the general population and pursuing a long strategy of getting the USA to join the war and defeat Hitler. The Ministry of Information used artistic talent to pursue these ends.
In 1940 London, Catrin Cole is summoned to an interview at the Ministry of Information, where she is taken on to write scripts for short information films. Her husband, Ellis Cole, is a war artist, unable to secure an exhibition and exempted from conscription due to a Spanish Civil War leg wound. He is initially accepting of her job, but when she becomes the only wage earner he begins to feel threatened and plans to send her back home to Wales, in the pretence of keeping her safe from the London Blitz. Happy with her work and wages, she refuses to leave; then offers him money for one of his paintings.
After a clash with the actor Ambrose Hilliard when he asks for a change to one of her scripts, Catrin's superiors banish her off set and send her to research a news story about twin sisters Lily and Rose Starling sailing their father's boat to take part in the Dunkirk evacuation. She discovers that in fact they didn't actually reach Dunkirk. In reality, their boat had engine trouble just off of Southend-on-Sea not long after leaving harbour. They had to be towed back into port by a tug that had taken part in the evacuation, although they had taken onboard soldiers from the overcrowded tug. At risk of losing her Ministry job and film idea, Catrin perpetuates the lie and doesn't tell her superiors that the sisters never made it, consequently they agree to make the film as The Nancy Starling, with Catrin, Tom Buckley, and Raymond Parfitt as the scriptwriters. They begin to write a scenario and, when their superiors later discover the deception, Buckley saves the day by convincing them to continue the film as fiction rather than a documentary.
Hilliard's agent, Sammy, offers him the comedic small part of drunken "Uncle Frank." He refuses out of pride, but, after Sammy's death in an air raid, Hilliard is reluctantly persuaded by Sammy's sister Sophie, who has efficiently taken over his theatrical agency. Hilliard, initially put off by her direct uncompromising approach, is won over as his public image improves.
Initial location photography in Devon begins, but rapid rewrites prove necessary when an American character is added on the orders of Anthony Eden, the Secretary of State for War, to give the film more appeal in the US whom they trying to entice as an ally. The Secretary also orders that the character must be played by Carl Lundbeck, a handsome Norwegian-American pilot from an Eagle Squadron, who has appeared in newsreels and is heroically photogenic, but he cannot act. The film is saved by judicious editing, as well as by Catrin convincing Hilliard to give Lundbeck acting lessons in return for improvements to Hilliard's own part.
Catrin and Buckley develop a combative friendship and affection during the location filming, but delays cause her to miss the opening of her husband's art exhibition. Just before leaving to see the exhibition's final day, Catrin reveals to Phyl that she is in fact Ellis's long-term lover and not his wife, having taken his name for the sake of propriety. She had run away with him; the ring she’s wearing she had herself purchased from Woolworths for appearance's sake. When visiting London, she surprises Ellis having sex with another younger woman and breaks up with him, going back to Devon.
She finds Buckley has found out about the nature of Catrin's marriage. He abruptly proposes to her, but surprised and still hurting, she refuses and they argue. Soon after, arriving in London to shoot for studio scenes, Catrin changes her mind and writes a mock film script of how she now wishes the conversation leading to his proposal had ended, making it clear to Tom that she does indeed love him. She's also inspired to write the film's ending for Buckley, who had had a creative block since their argument. He discovers both these pieces of writing and reconciled, they finally kiss. A stage hand approaches the couple and asks Catrin to come and answer a query from Hilliard about rewriting his character. Buckley goes to answer it instead of Catrin, but as he turns to look back at Catrin, he is suddenly killed by a falling lighting rig. Several other actors are injured, one of these is Hilliard, who is visited in hospital by his agent Sophie. A love interest between these two also develops and she suggests he should come and stay with her to convalesce.
In the meantime, filming is delayed and a more US-audience-friendly ending "with more oomph" is requested by the war ministry to replace the far too subtle and restrained original British one. In addition, the penultimate sequence of freeing the boat's propellor has yet to be resolved and filmed. With Hilliard still recovering and Lundbeck now back with his squadron, there seems to be no actor left to play that role. The producers fear the movie will have to be scrapped, but Catrin successfully suggests that instead of a male character, one of the twins, Rose, fix the boat's fouled propeller (just as she'd wished from the start). She later learns that this scene has inspired the real twin sisters Lily and Rose to take up war work, both becoming mechanics.
After Buckley's death Catrin withdraws from the world of film in shock and grief, and she does not attend its premiere. A visit from Hilliard to her squalid digs convinces her to return. He is motivated in part to inspire Catrin to write him fulfilling future roles such as an idea he has for a retired ex cat burglar turned air-raid warden, having accepted that he can no longer play matinee idol parts half his age.
Catrin attends a public screening of The Nancy Starling and enjoys watching the visibly-moved audience reactions. She sees that a distant shot of her and Buckley happily together has been added to the ending as a tribute. She heads back to the scriptwriters office, sits down at Buckley's old desk, and starts working on her next film using his old typewriter.
The main story
- Gemma Arterton as Catrin Cole, screenwriter
- Sam Claflin as Tom Buckley, screenwriter
- Jack Huston as Ellis Cole, Catrin’s husband
- Helen McCrory as Sophie Smith, Sammy’s sister
- Eddie Marsan as Sammy Smith, Ambrose Hilliard's agent and Sophie’s brother
- Rachael Stirling as Phyl Moore, executive from the Ministry of Information
- Richard E. Grant as Roger Swain, head of film at the Ministry of Information
- Paul Ritter as Raymond Parfitt, screenwriter
- Jeremy Irons as Secretary of War
- Henry Goodman as Gabriel Baker, film producer
- Michael Marcus as Alex, the Director
- Natalia Ryumina as Muriel, Ellis’ lover
- Lily Knight as Rose Starling
- Francesca Knight as Lily Starling
- Rebecca Saire as Mortuary Nurse
Actors in Carrot Film
- Gaby Chiappe as Dolly
- Amanda Fairbank-Hynes as Mabel
Actors in "The Nancy Starling"
- Bill Nighy as Ambrose Hilliard, the luvvie playing Uncle Frank
- Jake Lacy as Carl Lundbeck, the American soldier playing Brannigan
- Claudia Jessie as Doris Cleavely, the young actress playing Lily Starling
- Stephanie Hyam as Angela Ralli-Thomas, the young actress playing Rose Starling
- Hubert Burton as Wyndham Best, the actor playing Johnnie, Rose's boyfriend
On 14 April 2015 it was announced that Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, and Bill Nighy would star in the World War II–set romantic comedy film based on the 2009 novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans. BBC Films developed the film, hiring Lone Scherfig to direct the film which was adapted by Gaby Chiappe. BBC Films would co-finance the film, which Number 9 Films and Wildgaze Films would produce with its Stephen Woolley and Amanda Posey, while HanWay Films would handle the international rights. On 10 September 2015 Jack Huston and Jake Lacy joined the film along with Richard E. Grant, Helen McCrory, Eddie Marsan, Rachael Stirling, and Henry Goodman. The production was financially supported by the Welsh Government's "Media Investment Budget".
Principal photography on the film began in early September 2015, in London. Locations used included, in Pembrokeshire, Freshwater West beach - which stood in for Dunkirk - Porthgain harbour, the Trecwn valley, and the Cresselly Arms at Cresswell Quay, in Swansea, the Guildhall and Grand Theatre, and in London, Bedford Square in Bloomsbury.
In May 2015, Lionsgate acquired UK distribution rights to the film. The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on 10 September 2016. Shortly after, EuropaCorp acquired the distribution rights to the film in the United States and France. STX Entertainment will distribute the film for EuropaCorp.
On 13 October 2016, Their Finest celebrated its European premiere at the BFI London Film Festival. The film was scheduled to be released in the United States on 24 March 2017 but was pushed back to 7 April 2017. It was released in the United Kingdom on 21 April 2017.
On the review-aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 90%, based on 132 reviews, with an average rating of 7.2/10. On Metacritic, the film has a score of 76 out of 100, based on 30 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
In the British press, Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called the character of Hilliard "a colossally proportioned scene-stealer" and wrote that "Arterton brings a rather beautiful kind of restraint to her role". Wendy Ide of The Observer praised the "rattling, screwball rhythm" of Catrin and Tom's "banter" but noted that some of the plot could have been "more persuasively developed" and that without the twist of Tom's death the film "could have torpedoed itself with predictability". She praised that twist as the film's "boldest decision... [which robs] the audience of an outcome we are expecting in a way that nobody sees coming", as well as calling the "film-within-a-film structure ... a neat device".
Geoffrey Macnab of the Independent wrote that "Some of the in-jokes begin to grate" but called Arterton's performance "well-judged and engaging" and noted the "scene-stealing antics" of Nighy, Lacy and Irons, particularly lauding Hilliard's shift from "comic buffoon ... [to] depth and pathos". Robbie Collin of the Telegraph called it a "handsome, rousing, rigorous entertainment you can’t help but play along with" and "Sparklingly adapted", with "bristly chemistry" between the two leads. He noted Scherfig's direction, with the "broad and rosy spoof" of the film-within-a-film and the gender inequalities of the period left "to squirm away unhindered in the subtext" rather than countered with anachronistic "spiky comebacks".
- "Their Finest (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. 25 October 2016. Retrieved 25 October 2016.
- "Their Finest (2017)". The Numbers. 10 August 2017. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
- "Their Finest (2017)". Box Office Mojo. 22 June 2017. Retrieved 20 August 2017. BOM reports only $3.6MM domestic. Foreign total gross not updated.
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- Tartaglione, Nancy (10 September 2015). "Jack Huston, Jake Lacy Join 'Their Finest Hour And A Half' – First Look Photo". deadline.com. Retrieved 25 October 2015.
- Newsroom (9 September 2016). "Starring role for stunning Welsh locations as Their Finest gets the red carpet treatment at global film premiere". Welsh Government. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
- "Gemma Arterton showcases her timeless beauty in 1940s ensemble as she gets to work on movie Their Finest Hour and a Half". dailymail.co.uk. 8 September 2015. Retrieved 25 October 2015.
- Evry, Max (16 September 2015). "Sam Claflin and Gemma Arterton Photos from Their Finest Hour and a Half Set". comingsoon.net. Retrieved 25 October 2015.
- "Movie premiere will show Pembrokeshire locations at 'Their Finest'". Western Telegraph. 11 April 2017. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
- "Their Finest used London's Bloomsbury for wartime setting". the location guide. 26 April 2017. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
- Jaafar, Ali (13 May 2015). "Lionsgate Acquires UK Rights On 'Their Finest Hour And A Half' From Hanway Films – Cannes". deadline.com. Retrieved 25 October 2015.
- "Their Finest". Toronto International Film Festival. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
- "Toronto To Open With 'The Magnificent Seven'; 'La La Land', 'Deepwater Horizon' Among Galas & Presentations". Deadline. 26 July 2016. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
- Fleming Jr, Mike (14 September 2016). "'Their Finest' In Big EuropaCorp Deal – Toronto". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 14 September 2016.
- Fleming Jr, Mike; Busch, Anita (3 January 2017). "STX Lands Luc Besson's 'Valerian' And Other EuropaCorp Titles In 3-Year Pact; RED Hit With Massive Layoffs". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
- Colley, Tess (13 October 2016). "Their Finest press conference with Gemma Arterton, Bill Nighy and Lone Scherfig". The Upcoming. Retrieved 18 May 2017.
- BFI London Film Festival (5–16 October 2016). "Film Festival Calendar 2016" (PDF). British Film Institute. Retrieved 18 May 2017.
- D'Alessandro, Anthony (17 October 2016). "'Their Finest' To Close Santa Barbara Int'l Film Fest, Sets March Release Date". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
- D'Alessandro, Anthony (26 January 2017). "'Their Finest', 'Free Fire' & 'Land Of Mine' Target New Dates". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
- "Their Finest (2016)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 21 April 2017.
- "Their Finest reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 21 April 2017.
- Bradshaw, Peter (20 April 2017). "Their Finest - review". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 April 2017.
- Ide, Wendy (23 April 2017). "Their Finest - review". The Observer. Retrieved 25 April 2017.
- Macnab, Geoffrey (19 April 2017). "Their Finest - review". The Independent. Retrieved 25 April 2017.
- Collin, Robbie (20 April 2017). "Their Finest - review". The Telegraph. Retrieved 25 April 2017.