Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. United Kingdom/Sweden, 2016. BBC Films, Welsh Government, Pinewood Pictures, Ingenious Media, HanWay Films, Wildgaze Films, Number 9 Films, Film i Vast, Filmgate Films, Ripken Productions. Screenplay by Gaby Chiappe, based on the novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans. Cinematography by Sebastian Blenkov. Produced by Finola Dwyer, Amanda Posey, Stephen Woolley. Music by Rachel Portman. Production Design by Alice Normington. Costume Design by Hannah Walter. Film Editing by Lucia Zucchetti. Toronto International Film Festival 2016.
Gemma Arterton rules this tribute to the spirit of British filmmaking and the spirit of Britain itself during World War II. She plays a newspaper copy editor who is advanced to script doctor when the Ministry of Information is looking to bolster the war effort through cinema but needs women to write the “mush” (women’s dialogue in propagandistic motion pictures). When she becomes involved in a particularly important project (what looks like a quasi-take on Powell and Pressburger’s A Canterbury Tale) that fictionalizes a rescue achieved by two sisters during the battle of Dunkirk, Arterton’s exceptional talent as screenwriter makes her invaluable to her affectionate co-scenarist (Sam Claflin), the film’s vain star (Bill Nighy) and threatens her relationship with her struggling artist boyfriend (Jack Huston). A fine command for the period and a perpetual warmth that runs through the whole thing make this a richly enjoyable, intelligent and moving film, one that hits the heart so deep thanks to its never abandoning the elements of humour that abound throughout. Somehow, magically, it gets away with being so funny despite the subject matter and era, plus crams in a great deal of plot in the last third without running on too long or feeling rambly. The performances are outstanding, none better than Arterton, who has never been more appealing, and Claflin, who has never been more charming.