Review: Their Finest

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

This was originally reviewed as part of our TIFF 2016 coverage. 

PLOT: During the London Blitz, a young woman (Gemma Arterton) takes a job as a script writer for women’s dialogue in morale-boosting films. When an idea of hers gets turned into a massive technicolor production, she finds herself on location with a sexist screen-writer (Sam Claflin) and an over-the-hill former leading man (Bill Nighy) desperate to save his flagging career.

REVIEW: There comes a point in every film festival when, if you’re a journalist watching dozens of film and averaging at least three a day, you get a little numb to yet another movie. This is why Lone Sherfig’s THEIR FINEST turned out to be such a nice little surprise, as I was almost zombie-like when I sat down to watch it, but found myself thoroughly captivated by this WWII rom-com/drama. It’s yet another example of two things – one being that no one does rom-coms as well as the Brits and two, Bill Nighy should be in every movie.


It helps if you have a certain fondness for the propaganda movies being sent-up. Movies like 49th PARALLEL (which unforgettably featured Laurence Olivier mangling a Quebecois accent), with dashing, pencil-thin mustachioed heroes and chipper ladies back home. It was certainly a time of sexists and elitism, giving Sherfig’s movie a certain bite, with it being a lightly feminist tale of a woman breaking-into a male dominated industry and trying to assure some degree of representation for the female characters in her films – not an easy thing when female-dialogue is called “slop” by the male writers.

At its heart, THEIR FINEST is more of a comedy-romance than anything, with sparks flying between Arterton’s spoken-for cub writer (she has a struggling artist hubby played by Jack Huston) and Claflin’s sexist scenarist. The two trade Hawksian banter throughout, and it’s clear the two only have eyes for each other, although in a nod to the danger of the period, Sherfig chucks some rather dark twists into the film, with beloved characters never really being safe in a city routinely bombed by the Germans.

It’s certainly a strong showcase for Arterton, who’s too often window-dressing in movies but proves herself to be a highly sympathetic, likable lead, being a nice Welsh girl coaxed away from home by her dashing hubby, but out-of-sorts in London. As for Sam Claflin, following ME BEFORE YOU, he’s quickly become the new go-to-guy for romance, and he adds a nice touch of venom to his part, making him far different than the typical, floppy-haired English comedy hero.

That said, as good as both of them are, Bill Nighy walks away with the movie as the pompous Ambrose Hilliard, a formerly popular star reduced to taking the comic relief “drunk uncle” part in Arterton/Claflin’s film. Tailor-made, Nighy brings his famous withering delivery and looks to the part, but also embellishes the character with some endearing moments. In short – it’s a part only he could have played.

Of course, everyone else is excellent too, with Sherfig never hitting a false note with her casting. Jake Lacy (Jenny Slate’s love interest in THE OBVIOUS CHILD) is especially good as the square-jawed American war hero recruited to star in the movie despite his total lack of acting ability with Nighy becoming his de-facto mentor. Jeremy Irons also has a nice cameo as the propaganda minister, while Richard E. Grant is cast to perfection as Arterton’s stuffy, elitist boss.

THEIR FINEST wound-up selling to Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp in one of the biggest deals of the fest, and it’s certainly an accessible crowdpleaser, with the screening I attended getting a huge round-of-applause aat the end. If you like other, pleasant (often Nighy-starring) movies like PRIDE and ABOUT TIME, you’ll have a great, uplifting time with this one. I sure did.

Their Finest



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.