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The people who would appreciate the charming British wartime romance "Their Finest" the most, oddly enough, are the characters in the movie because it's their job to make stiff-upper-lip war movies like this one.
It's 1940 in London, at the height of the Blitz, and the U.K.'s Ministry of Information is in dire need of good writers to punch up its much-derided propaganda films. Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), a screenwriter loaned out to the ministry, thinks he's found a likely candidate in Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton), who writes the occasional comic strip for a London newspaper.
Catrin jumps at the chance, because she could use the money. Her husband, Ellis (Jack Huston), is a struggling artist rejected for conscription. So she accepts the assignment and the marching orders of Roger Swain (Richard E. Grant), the ministry's point man with the film industry, to find a story with "authenticity and optimism."
Tom sends Catrin to check out such a story, of twin sisters who stole their abusive father's boat to rescue British soldiers retreating at Dunkirk. And though the story doesn't quite hold up the sisters admit their engine failed before they got to the French coast there's enough in it for a movie to stir the hearts of the British populace.
Danish director Lone Scherfig ("An Education") and screenwriter Gaby Chiappe, adapting Lissa Evans' novel "Their Finest Hour and a Half," pinpoint with authentic detail that moment in British history when everything seemed hopeless, as German bombs rained down every night and death was around every corner.
There's a remarkable scene where Catrin sees a building explode, thinks she sees bodies, then laughs when she realizes they're mannequins from a shop window and then is sickened to see a real corpse in the bombed-out shop. Arterton's sharp, sweet performance should command the attention of Americans who missed her in action movies such as "Clash of the Titans" and "Quantum of Solace."
She also has a salty chemistry with Claflin, whose Tom goes from resenting Catrin's feminine perspective to appreciating it. The movie features a small platoon of eccentric supporting players, like Helen McCrory as a no-nonsense agent, but they'd have to work double-time to top Bill Nighy's agreeably starchy portrayal of the self-absorbed actor.
"Their Finest" is a fond look at a time of British pride and pluck, when a woman could find her inner resources and get the job done. The Ministry of Information would have loved it and ordered five more just like it.
A young woman finds her role in the British war effort writing inspirational propaganda films in this charming romantic comedy-drama.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens Friday, April 21.
Rating • R for some language and a scene of sexuality.
Running time • 117 minutes.