Review / ‘Their Finest’ (M) *** and a half

DANISH director Lone Scherfig’s film takes us back to 1940 with a dramatisation of Lissa Evans’s novel ”Their Finest Hour and a Half”. Britain’s alone in confrontation with Hitler’s mob. The rescue of the British troops from the beaches at Dunkirk is fresh in everybody’s memory. A film company is busy making a movie about two sisters who, without permission, take their grandfather’s little boat across the Channel to help in the rescue. Catrin (Gemma Arterton) gets a job working on the script with Tom (Sam Claflin).

Learning of the project, the War Office offers to provide funding that will help convert the movie into a propaganda piece to persuade America to join Britain in the fight (in a cameo, Jeremy Irons makes a florid declamation of the tail end of the St Crispin’s Day speech). And on a film set in Devon, Catrin and Tom get writing.

Scherfig’s cast includes Ambrose, an ageing actor whose whole being is suffused with his profession. In the movie he plays a minor role. In the film, his relationship with Catrin is a major structural element. His off-set life is desultory, dull. Her’s is uncomfortable – she and Tom are off-screen partners but she goes ballistic on finding another woman in bed with her artist husband in London.

The staccato dramatic rhythm to the outer film isn’t uncomfortable once Gaby Chiappe’s screenplay settles down. Seeing how movies got made before the arrival of modern technology offers a special benefit. And the film has fun exploring the divide between cast and crew on the set.

Most of all, we have the absolute pleasure of watching Bill Nighy as Ambrose. And of hearing his light baritone performing the lovely song “Will ye go, Lassie, will ye go?” before cast and crew in the pub.

At Dendy, Palace Electric and Capitol 6

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