As long as there have been films, there have been war films but there aren’t many quite like this, defying conventions while taking the story in a different direction.
Synopsis: During the Blitz of World War II, a female screenwriter works on a film celebrating England’s resilience as a way to buoy a weary populace’s spirits. Her efforts to dramatize the true story of two sisters who undertook their own maritime mission to rescue wounded soldiers are met with mixed feelings by a dismissive all-male staff. (Rovi)
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, and Bill Nighy
Writer: Gaby Chiappe
Director: Lone Scherfig
Running Time: 117mins
As mentioned, this was a different war film as it approached the subject in a refreshing way, keeping the story away from the battlefield. The film is about a woman named Catrin Cole (Arterton) who is hired as a screenwriter to bring a woman perspective to the film wing of the British Ministry of Information. Despite being hired as woman, it was generally not an easy time for them as she tried to find her own place and her own voice within a male-dominated industry.
The film touches the idea of feminism through Cole and her journey in a very endearing way. As women became more and more accepted in the workplace, so was she. Over time, Cole grew closer to a fellow screenwriter named Tom Buckley (Claflin). At first, he did not see her as an equal, as most men did, but he eventually learned to value her perspective and was given more of a chance to prove her worth.
Other than the WWII backdrop, there wasn’t anything particularly new about the story. What was fun about it was to see all these familiar elements, beit war film, romance, and occasionally comedy, all occurring while behind the scenes of the making of a propaganda film to help raise morale and boost support for the war.
The film was about a pair of sisters who stole their father’s boat to help rescue soldiers trapped in Dunkirk (the same Dunkirk as the upcoming Christopher Nolan film of the same name). The story sounded good on paper and fit the ministry’s mandate of authenticity and optimism but the more scrutiny that was applied, the more the story began to fall apart. This didn’t matter much as the story could always be massaged to fit whatever narrative was necessary with the depiction of this process serving as a satire of the British film industry at that time.
Also in the film was an aging, over the hill, actor named Ambrose Hilliard (Nighy). Hilliard was an old school actor who was seemingly trying to retain his relevance while not quite being able to move on from some of his popular early work. His pompous, larger than life, personality often stole scenes thanks to some funny quips and one liners. Perhaps the moment that best exemplified Cole’s progression was Hilliard’s acceptance of her and their eventual friendship.
The film had a great sense of authenticity from the set design, the costumes, and the subdued color palette. All in all, the cinematography did an excellent job at capturing the bleakness of war-torn 1940s London. While the war was used to drive the story forward and seeing how it affected each of the characters, the film was much more compelling when it dealt with their relationships and how they progressed during the making of the film. While Cole and Buckley had decent chemistry, Buckley was underdeveloped as a character whose only purpose appeared to prop up Cole.
The acting was the best part of the film with Arterton and Nighy being the standouts. Arterton was extremely likable as Cole which made her journey compelling to watch. She brought a real sense of genuineness and a driving force, elevating the film with her performance and making her character easy to root for. Nighy played against type as Hilliard. He was fun to watch and brought gravitas to the role. He stole scenes based on presence alone but it was a shame that the film didn’t do enough with him. Claflin and Arterton had decent chemistry but his character couldn’t help but to feel slightly overlooked.
Overall, this was a great, original war film, approaching the subject in a refreshing way, focusing on the societal shift within war-torn 1940s London and its impact on the making a propaganda film and was also elevated by the performances of Arterton and Nighy.
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