Last Monday (5th June) our friends at the local Warner Bros cinema once again provided a Tea & Talkies film for Millman Street Community Centre members. This latest cinematic treat was Their Finest, set in a Ministry of Information film unit in 1941. Based on Lissa Evans’ 2009 novel Their Finest Hour And A Half, the film explores the progress of Caitlin Cole (Gemma Arterton clad in 1940s chic and a Welsh accent – there’s tidy!) as she helps the film unit make a morale-boosting propaganda film about the previous year’s Dunkirk evacuation. Sam Claflin co-stars as Buckley, the love interest, and there is also Bill Nighy, playing the poncey actor Ambrose Hilliard. Richard E Grant and Eddie Marsan are included in the supporting cast.
Naturally, your HCA reporter was absent from the screening, but actually has a copy of the novel. Shame it’s on his yet-to-read pile, as he could have given a far better summary of the story had he read it. However, in traditional HCA Last Word In Film Reviews style, the blundering fool sought the opinions of Millman Street Centre members who did see the film, and cobbled together a critique. Of sorts:
“It was good,” said David. “It [the film within the film] was about twins” who pluckily took their little ship to France to help evacuate British Expeditionary Force soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk. “The boat conked out,” David continued. “They had to pump the water out” before bringing the soldiers back.”
As for Gemma Arterton’s character, he said: “Her husband [Ellis Cole, played by Jack Huston] had an affair. It was very good,” he added. “A great film!”
Volunteer Gloria, conversely, was “Not as enthusiastic as I usually am” about the film. Helena said, “It was alright; a bit heavy for me.”
Rose also attended the screening, and liked the film well enough.
Sarah said: “It was set in World War Two. She (Arterton) was a screenwriter. They made a film with an American actor. Her husband cheated on her. They made up and kissed and all that. They [the Nazis] bombed the movie set and…[here she gives away the ending; excised so as not to spoil it for others]…I did enjoy it. Towards the end it was interesting,” but there was, “Too much romance” for her: “I like mysteries and thrillers.”
Alongside the romantic and propaganda elements of the film, Their Finest is also about the implicit misogyny of the British film industry of the time, with Arterton’s character brought in to do “the Slop”, which dialogue for females was apparently dismissed as. She is also told that her contribution to the film unit’s output will garner her “no screen credits” and that “we can’t pay you as much as the chaps.”
Bloomin’ cheek. No wonder Women’s Lib caught on a few years later…
So what was our Finest Hour-and-a-Half? And does it have to be against the Germans? [for the purposes of this, yes it does].
- You’d have to say England’s 4-2 victory over West Germany in the 1966 World Cup Final – if it were not for the fact that it went to extra time and was, therefore, English football’s finest two hours….
- Then what about The Great Escape? Once a staple of Boxing Day afternoon television, the film goes on far, far longer than 90 minutes….
- So, we’re left with Went The Day Well?, Ealing Studios’ 1942 propaganda film, directed by Alberto Cavalcanti. In a sort of precursor to The Eagle Has Landed , Nazi paratroops infiltrate a small English village, but are rumbled thanks to a sweet tooth for chocolate, and then fought off by a cast of plucky Brits, including Mervyn Johns and Thora Hird [yes, that Thora Hird] and a woman who sings a song about eating “parrot pie”. Well, each to their own. Not everyone likes chocolate… Anyway, Went The Day Well? is the sort of wartime morale booster that Their Finest may have been based on. It’s hard to say if you haven’t seen the film. Or yet read the novel…
Holborn Community Association would like to thank Warner Bros Cinema for once again providing our members with a marvellous Tea & Talkies presentation free of charge.
Rambling review by Notes Smudger