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“Authenticity—that’s what they’re after now: Authenticity informed with optimism.” So declares a character in the charming British drama Their Finest, in regard to creating a wartime propaganda movie that will lift public morale for the war effort. Authenticity is also what Their Finest tries to achieve through a bittersweet tale of ordinary citizens enduring the grit and chaos of war through love, laughter, and storytelling.
It’s 1940 in London, and Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is interviewing for a secretarial job at the Ministry of Information’s film division. Instead, she gets hired to write women’s lines for propaganda shorts—or the “slop,” as head writer Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) dismissively dubs it: “Girl talk, women’s dialogue, woof woof.” Buckley then realizes Catrin possesses greater writing skills than just creating lines for women, and soon the pair are working on a full-length film targeting the patriotic heartstrings of British and American moviegoers.
Authenticity and optimism are the effort’s rallying theme, but the cynical, prickly Buckley understands that while war is fought with guns, war is made palatable through cinema, because “stories have structure, purpose, and meaning ... unlike life.” So even as air-raid sirens wail and bombs explode outside, Catrin and Buckley bang away on typewriters in the office late into the night, occasionally brushing ceiling debris off their desks. And like the fictional screenplay they craft together, the actual screenplay of Their Finest involves a love triangle, tragedy, female heroism, and a cute, sad-eyed dog.
Some crude language and a brief sex scene give Their Finest an R rating, but it’s otherwise a heartening, enjoyable, finely textured story that will evoke tears of laughter and sympathy. The mostly British cast is endearing, particularly the tender yet laugh-aloud scenes with Bill Nighy, who plays a fading actor whose ego has not yet deflated. It’s a tough balancing act to employ lighthearted comedy and biting wit in a WWII drama without downplaying the serious devastation of war, but Their Finest pulls it off with, yes, authenticity and optimism.