Director: Lone Scherfig
Writer: Based on Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evens. Screenplay by Gaby Chiappe
Released: April 2017
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Helen McCrory, Eddie Marsan, Jake Lacy, Rachael Stirling and Richard E. Grant
Well. That was a pretty enormous disappointment.
After seeing the trailer, I thought, ‘this is my kind of film’. During 1940, a female protagonist, Catrin (Emma Arterton) proves herself to be a talented screenwriter for propaganda films (created to inform, and to lift the spirits of the public). Bill Nighy – a fabulous actor – plays an egotistical has-been actor called Ambrose, and everyone looks beautiful.
‘Brilliant’, I thought, ‘a coming-of-age drama based around film and writing – both things I love – with a sprinkle of comedy and a touch of tragedy against a wartime backdrop.’
How wrong I was.
The first part is entertaining enough, Catrin is living with her husband who is basically a failed artist and not earning much money. She lands this great writing job where she writes the ‘slop’, or female dialogue.
Tom Buckley (Sam Clafin): Don’t confuse facts with truth… Film is real life with the boring bits cut out.
She soon becomes more successful in a male-dominated world, and warms to a fellow writer. Among this, everyone is dodging London bombings. At the end of every raid, someone else she knows has died.
The story carries the standard structure of any drama. But unfortunately my suspension of disbelief is totally destroyed during the ‘absolute low’. Without giving too much away, after a particularly devastating bombing, the protagonist loses everything.
Afterwards, the story is supposed to take a turn for the better, with a happy ending. However, the protagonist doesn’t ‘win’ at the end, and the story falls off a cliff. I’ve seem this film described as a ‘bittersweet, uplifting romance-drama’. It’s not. It’s an unnecessarily devastating war film.
I was disappointed to say the least. Why tear our hero down so far? Where’s the inspiration in that? This was supposed to be a story about an underdog who succeeded despite the war, despite being a woman in a man’s world, despite being downtrodden and disrespected. (Her lack of ability to stand up for herself is frustrating to say the least.)
In fact, it’s a story about an underdog who, with a lot of hard work, succeeds professionally and personally despite everything – until the rug is pulled from under her and she ends up worse-off than ever. Who the hell wants to watch a film like that? It just made me feel bad.
I enjoyed how the story was about a writer, who in some scenes is shown to be rewriting how her day turned out, or rewriting a conversation she had where she wished she said something differently (something I sometimes do!). I also liked the exploration into why people love films.
Tom Buckley: Why do people like films? It’s because stories are structured. They have a shape, a purpose, a meaning; and when things go bad they’re still a part of a plan; there’s still a point to them. Unlike life.
I like how she had professional success and that she was proud of herself, but overall, I walked away with the message ‘give it a go despite the odds. Try really hard. But you’ll fail and end up with no one and nothing anyway’.
What the hell, Bill Nighy. I trusted you.
Jodie’s rating: 4/10