Their Finest has a lot of humor, but I wouldn't call it a comedy. And I hate it when it is branded 'romantic comedy', even though there is a beautiful romance in it.
I first saw this film in a theater and now I saw it again on DVD and loved it even more second time around. This is the kind of movie where you want to catch every word. The dialogue is so good, I feel like every other line is worth quoting. But I will only quote one now. "Why do you think that people like films? It's because stories are structured; have a shape, a purpose, a meaning; and when things go bad they're still a part of a plan; there's a point to them. Unlike life." This line is about movies the characters are making but it is also about the movie they are in. It's a perfect example of something I found so special about this film - subtle parallels between it and the movie that is being made in it.
SOME SPOILERS FROM HERE ON.
The characters are fantastic and the journeys they make over the course of the film are fascinating to watch. We witness the main heroine Catrin Cole (a genuine and powerful performance by Gemma Arterton) discover that she has a knack for screenwriting and loves doing it. And we also watch a meek provincial girl, a mere smudge on her artist husband’s paintings transform into a confident, independent woman. There is an aging actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy) who discovers a new path for his acting career. He is also someone who starts out a pompous, self absorbed jerk (When his Jewish agent mentions relatives from Poland visiting and adds that things are really bad there, Hilliard complains how the war caused shortage of good Italian waiters. This is 1940!), but as the movie progresses he learns to appreciate those around him (like the writers) and even care about them. Bill Nighy is very very funny in this role, but it is what he does when his character is faced with a tragedy that makes his performance so all around great.
And then there is Catrin's fellow screenwriter Tom Buckley (chameleonic Sam Claflin). He recognizes her talent from very early on, after all, he is the one who discovered her, yet he is condescending and demeaning to her. He is also clearly attracted to her from the start, but in a sleazy kind of way. And then he falls for her, quietly and painfully. He also realizes that as a writer she might actually be better than him. But what we witness in him is not so much a transformation as a series of revelations. Buckley is the most interesting, multi layered character in the film. It turns out that in this man who at first appears to be an arrogant, misogynistic jerk, despised by one female co-worker so much she literally wishes him dead, there is decency, a big heart, and a sensitive soul. And with all his cynicism about the screenwriting process, he longs to actually create something good, not what he’s been forced to make. There is so much internal intensity in Sam Claflin's performance, that I found myself rooting for Buckley at the first appearance of the aforementioned decency, but especially after his speech on why the movie about the sisters should still be made, even though they never made it to Dunkirk. I know I wasn’t the only one. During the wordless scene in which he is shown alone in the office having realized that he is in love, people in the audience literally went “Awww” – out loud. And I think it is because in Buckley’s last scene his passion, his hunger, and most importantly, his happiness are so palpable and vivid, what happens next is so extraordinarily traumatic – even for the time when death is a daily occurrence.
Like Buckley said in the quote I used earlier, “When things go bad they're still a part of a plan; there's a point to them.” A lesser movie would have, perhaps, chosen to have the ending of the love story parallel that of the movie within a movie, make everyone happy. But I found the parallel they chose to have instead much more poignant and powerful. In a heartbreaking irony it is the girl who ends up fixing the propeller and it is the woman who is left to finish the script. Hopefully she got the screen credit after all.