Any time a film features a central character who’s a writer, it’s easy to assume that on some level, the screenwriter is seeing something of him or herself in that character, especially if it’s not something satirical. When the writers in the film are screenwriters? Double down on that assumption. Their Finest certainly elevates the importance of its writers, who work as part of England’s Ministry of Information in World War II. Their goal: to write a film that will inspire a nation. But thanks to shifting tones and a winning performance from Gemma Arterton, Their Finest manages to move beyond that and work as a film.
Catrin Cole (Arterton) is a new screenwriter who’s brought on board a film project to work on what’s referred to as “slop,” or women’s dialogue to help give a film some female perspective. She’s placed under the tutelage of head writer Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin). The filmmakers eventually settle on a story from the evacuation of Dunkirk, creating and manipulating a story in an effort to create something palatable to English – and eventually, American – audiences. Catrin and Tom have to deal with the shifts in production, including the hurdles presented by some of the actors, and produce quick rewrites constantly.
Among the changes made to the film within the film is a new ending, because American audiences would find the original ending too restrained. “Restrained” is fitting, because it does describe a lot of the overall tone of Their Finest, which bounces around from comedy to drama to romance frequently. The restrained tone of the film makes the shifts more palatable and less drastic, particularly the evolving relationship between Catrin and Tom. While this works for the most part, it undercuts the film in a few scenes, most notably in an abrupt dramatic turn that doesn’t hit the way that it should.
Still, the film is rather charming, in no small part thanks to Arterton’s amiable performance. Claflin, to his credit, is also charming, and he thankfully doesn’t diminish the nerdier elements of the man who’s a head writer. And if there’s a message to the film, it’s that it stresses that films should keep in mind the women who make up their audiences. That the film was both written and directed by women should be noted, since that’s still unfortunately infrequent.