The last time that I saw a film about the entertainment industry in London during the Second World War, I wound seeing more of national treasure Bob Hoskins than I could afford to tell my therapists about so it was with some trepidation that I apprached Their Finest featuring a (hopefully fully clothed) Bill Nighy and Gemma Arterton.
The set ups a simple one, during the war, typist Catrin Cole has been seconded to the film division of the ‘Ministry of Information’ and winds up helping to write a film about a more or less true story of the Dunkirk evacuation that will inspire and unite the nation, bring America into the war, survive endless levels of official interference, cantankerous old actors, actors that can’t act all the while attempting to keep Richard E. Grant from chewing the scenery into rubble before the Nazis get the chance. Whack it on the stage and you’d have an incredible farce as increasingly desperate scriptwriters try to keep the show on the road. After all, that is traditionally what the old ‘play-within’a-play’ conceit has been used for.
Except this isn’t a fast moving farce on the stage, instead it’s a film that’s so British that I half felt I should be watching it with a cup of Earl Grey enhanced with a twist of lemon (blaspheming early Grey with milk simply isn’t done in a civilized society). Unlike most films, it doesn’t shy away from showing social attitudes of the time and the fact that with most men away in the armed forces, women are for the first time in history earning money and beginning to assert themselves in the workplace.
But this film is slow, very, almost punishingly slow. it’s run-time of 117 minutes passed reasonably quickly for myself but my infinitely better half was bored to Farmville before the start of Act Two.
It is well acted and scored and potters along well enough, although the heartwarming moments never quite convince, mostly owing to a complete lack of chemistry between Arterton and an incredibly handsome block of wood called Sam Claflin who people keep trying and failing to convince me is a real boy. Bill Nighy does what he can but he’s given very little to work with.
And despite opening in the rest of the world weeks before the United Kingdom, I can see why it’s so far made back less than a third of it’s budget relatively meager £30 million pound budget. This is a story that needs to be fast moving, to pile on issue after issue after issue, large and small, serious and silly but I’ve seen faster plotting in episodes of Midsummer Murders! Even the war itself feels like little more than a distraction from the central plot of getting this film made, which by the end is supposed to be doing everything bar finding out who Keyser Soze really is.
I really wanted to like this film, it had actors I like, a story-line I normally like, in a setting that I find intriguing but it feels like the kind of film that my grandparents would have loved and that’s the issue. This is a film made for a time that’s already been and gone.
And that time was about twenty years ago. No matter how many twinkly Bill Nighys you throw at me.
My Score- If Nothing Else