Director Lone Scherfig’s latest film, Their Finest, is beautiful, yet largely conventional period drama. Another book adaptation of the director’s, it mixes humour with an excellent cast to tell a story that’s largely unknown to modern audiences. However a controversial twist doesn’t manage to distract by its one major mistake – portraying a worn cliche to a tired female audience.
Their Finest follows a young copywriter, Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton), who by a turn of luck during the Second World War gets recruited as a female consultant for a movie script. Working with scriptwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), who declares women’s lines in films as ‘slop’, she gradually changes perceptions both in the writers room and on the set.
With a starry British cast, including Bill Nighy as a pretentious aging actor and Jack Huston as Catrin’s artist partner, everyone gives good performances. Nighy in particular brings a laugh to every scene he’s in, whilst the always sublime Richard E. Grant appears as an interfering minister of propaganda. In particular the scenes of vintage movie filming are a joy, shining a light on the British film industry at a time when Hollywood cast a long and domineering shadow.
When it comes to the aforementioned cliche however, responsibility doesn’t fall at the feet of the actors or director but with the person behind the story. Whether it’s a strict adaptation or not, this film resorts to one of the most frustrating plot lines in modern film, where a woman has to give up her relationship for a career. Usually this is due to the partner dumping or cheating on her, although it can work both ways. Either way, the blame is almost always placed on the woman for getting too wrapped up in her new job.
It’s not unique to Their Finest, or to the period setting. Just a few months ago La La Land presented the same choice of career or relationship, while The Devil Wears Prada did it particularly memorably. Clearly according to film it’s not restricted to the 1940s – are we as modern woman due to make this choice at some point in our lives? Even if it is the case, the sheer persistence of this cliche makes me suspect that we’re being hardwired to expect it.
Despite this cliche and a conventional plotline, the film throws an unexpected spanner in the works in the latter section of the movie, taking an controversial turn that will come as a shock to audiences. It’s a strength and a weakness, singling out the film at a time when it seems set to mimic the Hollywood-esque ending, yet presenting what some could see as emotional manipulation. The judgement from each movie-goer is likely to be entirely personal as a result.
Make no mistake, Their Finest is an enjoyable romantic period drama with a fantastic cast that many will enjoy. It just happens to be a casualty of a larger problem, where one prevalent idea of a woman’s necessary sacrifice has pervaded films for years. Perhaps it’s time that more women on film faced challenges in their career that aren’t just the presence of a romantic partner.
Their Finest will reach UK cinemas on 21 April 2017.