I have to admit I had no interest in Dunkirk until the day I saw it. With the all-white-male cast and Christopher Nolan header, it seemed to me totally respectable viewing material on an Oscar Bait level, but not something that would interest me. What a great follow-up for a Revenant-themed movie marathon! But personally, when I’m deciding what I’m going to spend money to see on a Friday night, Sepia Masculinity is not my first choice of genre.
But word of mouth convinced me that this movie was more than the poster promised, and it was 100% right. Dunkirk is not just a great war movie, but a great anything movie. And if you’ve seen it (or if you haven’t and even if you absolutely don’t want to) and you want a follow-up that isn’t quite so anxiously suffocating, then oh boy. Do I have a movie for you.
I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t heard of Their Finest. Probably because it never actually got an American release, and even its UK release came two years after it acquired distribution. But its cast is everything good in the world: Gemma Arterton, Bill Nighy, Richard E. Grant, and Sam Clafin, plus Jake Lacy in maybe my favorite role of his to date, which says A LOT, because there is a whole lot of competition there.
The movie centers on a film studio in 1940 London, charged with making movies that both entertain and improve morale. (Read: euphemisms for propaganda.) All this is happening while bombs drop on the city daily and men are, for the most part, absent, off at war themselves.
Catrin Cole (Arterton) is then brought in to write the “women’s parts” of their movies, with the previous experience of having filled in for a male writer on a single comic strip. She’s therefore just qualified enough to be totally undervalued. But she ends up pitching the remarkable (and secretly less than factually accurate) story of two young women who steal their alcoholic father’s boat to help in the same Dunkirk recovery mission Nolan took on in his film.
Through the entire film, at any given moment, Cole has to navigate her new career, her relationship with her insecure 4F husband, general sexism in the workplace and at home, and- oh yeah- BOMBS FALLING FROM THE FUCKING SKY every single day and night. The story drifts briefly into love triangle territory, yet avoids ever feeling cliche. It manages persistent levity, putting the actual Funkirk in its Dunkirk, but still packs one hell of an emotional wallop when it wants to.
I can’t remember the last time I was so surprised by a movie. When I thought they were getting ready to kill off a character, I got romance. When I thought we were safe, they leaned into tragedy. None of this ever felt like clumsy storytelling.
It can’t be understated that much of this has to be due to the fact that it is a woman’s story through and through. Sit down, #NotAllMen, no one is saying women are inherently better at filmmaking. But this is a woman’s story. And if it didn’t commit to maintaining Cole’s unwavering point of view throughout, it would have suffered. This is a movie about a woman, written and directed by women (Gaby Chiappe and Lone Scherfig, respectively), based on a book written by a woman (Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans). Scanning through the IMDB credits, the producing credits and crew seem to be uniquely woman-heavy (meaning about equally split). When telling the story of a woman, how novel to include women in the process. It’s almost like that makes an infinitely better movie.
Their Finest isn’t available to stream for free yet, but it’s fully worth the $5 it will cost you on Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, or anywhere else. What movie are you in the mood for? Romance? Comedy? Tragedy? War film? Period piece? Looking at Gemma Arterton’s gorgeous face? THIS IS YOUR MOVIE. Sorry if I’m coming off too forceful. I’m just trying to make up for my horrible mistake in not previously knowing of this movie’s existence to the degree it deserves. I promise you’ll be better off if you don’t repeat it.