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Review: ‘Their Finest’ sizzles with chemistry

Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times

Screen chemistry is an odd thing; often you only notice it when it isn’t there. But “Their Finest,” an utterly charming film set in World War II-era London, contains a textbook example.

Gemma Arterton plays Catrin Cole, a young advertising copywriter hired by the British Ministry of Information to write “women’s dialogue” for wartime propaganda feature films; Sam Claflin is Tom Buckley, a wry fellow screenwriter who’s not sure that her presence is necessary. Catrin’s married, Tom’s not — and so first they become co-workers, then friends.

Watching them, you start noticing how he looks at her like she’s a fascinating puzzle that he’s trying to figure out, and how she blushes just a bit when he’s around, and how effortlessly these two actors convey that they belong together.

It’s one of many pleasures in Lone Scherfig’s film, based on a 2009 novel by Lissa Evans and drenched in a sweet nostalgia that only very rarely tips into sentimentality. The plot’s mostly centered on the making of one movie, based on a true incident involving a pair of twin sisters who set out in their father’s shabby boat to help evacuate wounded soldiers at Dunkirk. It’s a tale that, as the executives at the Ministry gleefully observe, has everything: “Authenticity, optimism and a dog.”

We watch the casting process (Bill Nighy, eyebrows perpetually raised, is a delight), the location shoot (note the 1940s version of CGI), and the way the filmmakers and cast form an impromptu family. Along the way, we’re reminded of the new roles women took on during that time, and how the shadow of war affected every day and every life, even as they soldiered on.

And there’s one scene, where Sam sits moodily smoking one evening, and Catrin appears behind him as if caught in a moonlit dream, and ... well, that’s why we watch movies, isn’t it?

‘Their Finest’

GRADE: B+

Rated R for some language and a scene of sexuality

Running time: 117 minutes.