Danish director Lone Scherfig continues her path to British citizenship with Their Finest, which took its world premiere bow at the Toronto Film Festival this past weekend. It’s her fourth British film in a row, after An Education, One Day and The Riot Club, and follows a group of characters in wartime London as they mount an heroic film production for the British government’s propaganda machine. When Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is seconded to pen a screenplay, she is immersed in an hilarious and warm theatrical world that includes characters like prima donna ham actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy, on masterful form) and her handsome co-writer Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin).
Based on Lissa Evans’ novel and scripted by Gaby Chiappe, Scherfig’s film paints a rich and nuanced picture of life for those in London who weren’t off fighting, but who still made enormous contributions to the war effort as they dealt with nightly bombings during The Blitz. And it has something meaningful to say about the work of women, especially, in keeping the country running.
Its moviemaking backdrop was what attracted Scherfig, she told me, as she and her cast descended on the Deadline Toronto studio. “It’s a little window in film history where films have never been more important,” she noted.
Arterton shines in the lead, bringing truth and depth of emotion to the film as its parody of the world of 1940s film production keeps the tone light. “There’s broad strokes in this film,” she said, “but everything’s done with such detail that it makes it not-brash. That’s down to Lone’s attention to detail. Little tiny things that you might not even catch, really, but she sees and thinks about.”
Nighy gets the plummiest of plum parts as the monstrously egotistical Hilliard, and he was on typically riotous form at the Deadline studio. “They were looking for someone to play a chronically self-absorbed, pompous actor in his declining years, and they thought of me,” he quipped. “Which is tricky to process on occasion, but I suppose I should be just grateful for the work.”
The great skill of the film, though, is that even Hilliard’s arch character gets to demonstrate a softer side. Says Scherfig: “Ambrose Hilliard changes over the course of the film, as much as someone as vain and ignorant of what goes on around him can change.”
For more from Scherfig, Arterton, Nighy and Claflin, check out the video above.